Over the past few days, spring has sprung, and according to the National Weather Service, we can look forward to mild nights, and warm days for at least the next week. Here in the country, I know it’s spring, because irrigation sprinklers have come alive, a necessary evil for farmers in the Four Corners. I remember that an old farmer I met years ago told me, “This durn irrigation is like milkn’ cows. Oncen’t you start it, you can’t stop it till the water’s all gone.“
While a lot of us are hunkered down, practicing social distancing, and riding out the pandemic, farmers and ranchers are doing what they normally do in the spring, harrowing pastures, working ground, calving cattle and lambing ewes, planting crops, and getting ready start irrigation. Social distancing is normal for these folks, because they’re to busy chasing daylight getting ready for the eminent growing and grazing season to socialize very much.
When I started working with farm and ranch families in 1984, we were in the height of the 1980’s debt crisis. The way forward was pretty murky for many of them, who had listened to the “get big or get out” rhetoric spouted by, first U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz, and often repeated by university agricultural experts, agricultural lenders and popular farm publications. Decisions to farm more land, buy bigger equipment and borrow more money based on the inflated value of land that they or their families had owned for years pushed many of the families to the breaking point when crop prices plummeted and interest rates soared. Some were able to weather the storm, others moved on to different occupations, and tragic a few opted to not go on.
Colorado State Veterinarian Keith Roehr is repeating the message of state and national food producers that the coronavirus and resulting COVID-19 illness are NOT food-borne. The Colorado Beef Council has said it has learned that some anti-meat advocates are pointing at beef and animal food products as part of the problem. But Roehr points out that scientists believe that indirect exposure through external packaging or through other means of transmission is unlikely to be an important factor in the transmission of the disease, because the disease spreads mainly by human to human contact and aerosol particles from coughs and sneezes, so we should follow what health professionals are saying, “prevent the spread of the disease by covering our coughs and sneezes!”
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued guidance on Thursday concerning the critical industry workforce that should continue as the country addresses and responds to the COVID-19 outbreak. U.S. food and agriculture was included among the 16 critical industries. The agency stated that if you work in a critical infrastructure industry, as defined by the Department of Homeland Security, such as healthcare services and pharmaceutical and food supply, you have a special responsibility to maintain your normal work schedule. This directive indicates that farmers and ranchers and businesses that support them are included in this directive. However, Dr. James Lowe, College of Veterinary Medicine at University of Illinois, told participants of the Farmdoc Daily webinar, that COVID-19 needs everyone’s attention, because it much like many animal diseases, that are difficult to determine which animals are infected vs. which animals are carrying the disease that may be spreading it to other animals in the herd. As a result, the big challenge facing this pandemic is understanding case definition.