Looking for the Bright Spots

Written By: Colt Schrader, NALJA Vice President

Over the past month, our nation has endured challenges that nobody could have ever foreseen. We’ve added new words to our vocabulary, like social distancing. Changed the way we interact with our friends and family by using video conferencing tools like Zoom and Google meetings. We traded in crowded classrooms for online classes. Which meant teachers like me said bye to our students before spring break, not knowing we might not see them again until August or maybe later. This pandemic has changed a lot of the ways we do many everyday tasks, but it also has some bright spots. Health care workers are finally receiving the appreciation that I feel they should receive daily. These doctors, nurses, first responders, and EMTs are putting their lives on the line for people they have never met. They deserve these many thanks in good times. The second is that a lot of families are eating out less and spending more time together. I know mine is so I can only assume that those that started this quarantine together have stuck together through it. Now, this can also be a drawback because once you’re around somebody for too long, they may start to become a little irritating. That said find out who you need in life. They may be annoying, but you need to enjoy them while you can because you never know what the next day may bring.

During this pandemic, just like we’ve added words to our dictionaries, we’ve also amended some of the words already wrote down. The most critical word being “essential.” Everybody from a banker handing out small business loans, to the doctors and nurses saving lives, even grocery store clerks have been told that they are “essential.” Another industry that has been brought to light in all this chaos as essential is agriculture. Now for all of us in agriculture, we already knew this to be true. Even my class of eighth graders could have told you that agriculture was and is essential.  That said, look at it from the perspective of somebody living in the concrete jungle. The closest they get to agriculture is at the supermarket. Even then, they couldn’t tell you where exactly their food might come from or even the real difference between organic and non-organic. The disconnect our country has seen from farm to fork is real, and it’s a real problem. For many people, the agricultural industry being labeled as essential may have come as a shock. Just look at the impact the agricultural sector has on America and what would happen if we made farmers and ranchers quarantine in their homes.

Let’s start by looking into cattle producers like myself. What happens when we run out of feed and need to get more. If the state or the local government shuts down feed stores because they’re not “essential,” we are in big trouble. Not to mention how that would affect companies like ADM, VitaFerm, Purina and many others. The results would be catastrophic, and that’s just one phase of the industry. Look at row crop operations, it’s starting to warm up, and they’re looking to start putting summer crops in the ground. What if they couldn’t get and seed or fertilizer because every place, they could get it was closed. We may not see any effects right now but down the road when ethanol prices skyrocket, and soybean futures are in the tank. That’s when we’ll finally understand how important agriculture is. Agriculture does a lot of things it feeds us, clothes us, fuels our vehicles, pays our bills, makes up half of our job title. It’s easy for people in the industry, especially an agricultural education teacher like myself, to see how important agriculture is to our country. That’s not the same for people that reap the benefits without understanding the process. Sometimes it takes being called essential by the government for people to look into the things they may take for granted. I think that’s the best thing that’s come from the pandemic. It shined a light on industries that, for the most part, stay in the shadows. It has the general public asking hard questions. One of the biggest things that may come out of this pandemic is Country of Origin Labeling (COOL). With more and more people asking tough questions about the industries that have come to light by being labeled “essential.” The meat industry, specifically the packer side of things, has come under some significant scrutiny. We will have to wait and see what happens, but it is incredible what people see once you start shining a little light on specific industries.

I would like to say thank you to all the doctors, nurses, EMTs, and all essential workers who continue to put their health on the line so that we may have a little normalcy. Thank you to all the teachers who are having to learn how to put their classes online so that students can get back to something normal. Thank you to the leadership not only in my state of Oklahoma but the nation as a whole.

I look forward to getting through this and celebrating together again at the Party of the Century this summer. Stay healthy and safe!

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