Farm to food bank

Register file art 

Seven farmers in Madison County helped contribute to supplementing nearly five million meals to Kentucky families. 

Just like other industries affected and shut down by the spread of COVID-19, the agriculture industry is grappling with remaining operational throughout an unprecedented societal setback in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

According to Madison County Extension Office Agent Brandon Sears, the ag industry is just like every other sector, not knowing the right steps to take.

"We don't know what to do," he said.

And while things may be a bit up in the air right now, Sears said farmers and those in ag industry are no strangers to challenges in their day-to-day.

"Farmers are just used to dealing with challenges and issues, and going on," Sears said. "They don't have a choice really. They can't stay at home and stay inside if they have livestock. (Farmers) are tough, resilient, resourceful and innovative and we have to do what we have to do. A lot of livestock are depending on these guys continuing to be able to operate."

He said the agriculture market is tied to the other fluctuating markets in stocks and that, overall, agriculture markets just are not good right now.

One challenge farmers are facing is the restriction of travel, to a degree, and the extreme limitations to public gatherings such as the stock yards, which is crucial to the business of county cattle farmers.

According to Sears, the stock yards are operating on a plan to keep distance in the sale ring itself on sale day. Additionally, those selling cattle are asked to drop the livestock off and go home. However, if they are watching, as soon as their live stock is sold, they are asked to leave to minimize contact.

"Just little odds and ends things like that," Sears said.

Another large challenge for the ag industry, is that a majority of their average workers are high-risk for contracting the virus as the median age for a farmer is over 60.

"They are the most at risk," Sears told The Register. "Unfortunately the farmers fall right into that category and they have cattle and farm projects to continue to do regardless of the virus.

"It is going to be pretty difficult there...These are unprecedented times."

Sears seemed gratuitous at the governor's decision to give exemptions to ag businesses when determining shutdowns so farmers could continue to get supplies, equipment and feed to maintain their daily jobs.

"These farm stores are the groceries and major supply chains for the farmers to continue to feed their livestock," Sears said. "We have got to keep those open. The stock yards ability to stay open is huge too, even though the prices are low, they still need to sell products to have a cash flow that allows them to buy seed, plant crops and even buy cattle this spring."

And while many people are still going to work to continue their part in a semi-normal functioning society, Sears said it is just as important to continue to remember farmers, who are doing their part to keep food on Kentuckians' tables.

"It is huge (to appreciate farmers)," he said. "All a person has to do is go to their grocery and see how important having access to safe and affordable food is. In good times we take for granted that food is always there and we may just have to drive a few miles for what we need. It brings people back into focus that the ag industry be viable and operational and continue to produce food.

"We talk about people panicking and if the shelves truly started going bare and there was no food, people are going to flip big time," he said. "So anything to support our farmers, we are going to do it and we are trying to help everyone out."

Reach Taylor Six at 624-6623 or follow her on Twitter at @TaylorSixRR.

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