Dealing with COVID-19 continues to stress the fabric of our country, from the farmers and ranchers to agribusinesses and rural communities that power the national economy.

Reading through our publication there is significant concern about how farmers and ranchers are trying to deal with this large kidney stone that is going through the economic system. We are learning that this new normal is not going away soon even as states take action to open up their economies, put people back to work and allow consumers return to stores and restaurants.

Through this process we have found a few silver linings that can offer some opportunities. Influential decision-makers in the private and public sectors agree that improved broadband service in rural regions has to become a national priority. High-speed internet can help farmers market their commodities. Independent businesses could be competitive with their urban cousins. Students and teachers, while showing they can be flexible in the High Plains, need to have a system that can expand remote learning opportunities. Medical doctors and specialists and their patients can benefit from a telemedicine appointment that can help boost access to services instead of having to drive many miles.

Those improvements will not detract from brick-and-mortar businesses that are staples in our communities, such as farm equipment, truck dealers and repair shops. The pandemic has reinforced the necessity of local enterprises that pay local retail and property taxes that improve a rural community’s way of life. We’ve also learned that working at home policies have opened new opportunities for companies that can offer greater flexibility to employees, particularly if they have young children or family members in need of care.

This is opening new doors and does not minimize monumental challenges facing farmers and ranchers because of the human equation needed to work with livestock, milk cows and plant and harvest crops. Those challenges have been magnified in the meat processing plants.

The stress of undertaking those jobs is felt throughout the agriculture chain. Producers are facing challenges not seen in many years. While interest rates are at a historic low it has not removed financial stress. It is heartbreaking to hear stories from longtime producers who have been advised by their bankers to liquidate their cattle herds so they can consolidate their assets and perhaps be able to save their operation for at least one more year. Even highly capitalized producers are feeling pressure to tighten budgets and streamline ways that would have been afterthought only a few years ago.

The federal government has agreed to pony up monies to help producers, who will accept the aid even as they recognize that is not the preferred route to success. Many producers and agribusiness operators have applied for Paycheck Protection Program funds that can be helpful. The government also has pledged to purchase commodities as a way to shore up the marketplace.

Producers and business operators who are feeling stressed and are depressed should not be afraid to reach out to mental health experts, clergy and trusted allies who can help them. We will get through this but we need each and every one because after all hose that is the most important asset of our balance sheet.

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

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