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This week’s cover story provides accounts from two High Plains farmers and ranchers in their own words what it means to be essential.

President Donald Trump, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Department of Homeland Security declared agriculture as essential, providing the industry with the support needed to keep churning as the nation’s economy went to a shutdown mode as it continues to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. The actions taken earlier this year by federal agencies were welcome news as key government institutions recognized the nation’s food supply had to remain in place as a bridge through difficult economic waters.

This current economic struggle reminds me of a time as a young college graduate who was working hard to land that first entry level job in journalism and was fortunate to land one in Norton, Kansas, at a community newspaper in June 1985. Agriculture was front and center of the city’s economy and the industry was hurting. Entering the work force in the midst of the farm crisis, a difficult time across the High Plains, as it faced the aftermath of another demon—record high interest rates. The balance sheets of farm families and agribusinesses were the casualties following several years of interest rates in the high teens as the Fed grappled with runaway inflation in the late 1970s. Combined with low commodity prices the mid-1980s took away many opportunities for aspiring farmers and ranchers.

This current event has made me look back in my professional career to take a second look at that time frame when our farmers and ranchers faced difficult challenges.

Thirty-five years offers an opportunity of shared perspective with readers. Too many people expect food to be cheap regardless of the cost of production. Agriculture has always been an essential industry yet the consumer has never fully understood the costs associated with producing the food for the country and the rest of the world. In some ways, like 35 years ago, producers already knew their bottom lines were going to be stressed with no easy answers.

Being declared essential offers producers and consumers to share in a common experience—the importance of safe and plentiful supply of meat, fruit, vegetables and dairy products. It all starts with farmers and ranchers who take an entrepreneurial initiative to be efficient producers. Like a well-oiled machine it takes many partners to be successful. The beauty of being essential is that it ripples through the local economies and this time of year many communities through fairs and festivals come together to celebrate their agricultural roots. Beyond 2020 we should look for more opportunities to celebrate the essence of agriculture.

The recognition of essential to the nation’s economy is welcome news in an industry that has not had much to celebrate in recent years. Let’s hope that the economy will continue to pick up steam and, if that’s the case, the income will return to the High Plains producers who will continue to do their part, in good and bad times, to keep feeding the American dream. 

Dave Bergmeier can be reached at 620-227-1822 or dbergmeier@hpj.com

 

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