Jul 8, 2020
NCAE Column: Farm families continue to go to work amid challenges

America’s farm and ranch families, like every other American family and families around the world, hope the battle against coronavirus is soon won. The horrible death and disruption bearing solemn witness to this scourge, must be quickly overcome. We all pray this happens, the sooner the better.

In the meantime, farm and ranch families will continue to get up before dawn each morning, grab a cup of coffee, lace up their boots, put on a cap and go to work. They hope, just like everyone else, that their toil will allow their legacy family business to survive another year.

One of the many challenges these brave Americans face year in and year out are the vagaries of Mother Nature. Sometimes she sends too much rain, or not enough of it. Sometimes she sends a killing frost and at other times withering heat. Hurricanes, blizzards, floods, drought and hail are all thrown into her mix. If, for nothing else, the variety of it all.

One of the more vexing challenges these patriots must annually overcome has relatively little to do with nature. This challenge has to do with people, or the lack of them.

The farm or ranch family can leverage equity in their family legacy to borrow money from the bank. They can use that liquidity to buy machinery, plant their seed, irrigate and nurture their crop, and watch it grow. It’s truly a beautiful thing to observe.

And, here in America, we are blessed these families are so talented at what they do. However, when it comes time to harvest that bounty, workers are scarce. It seems that not all Americans are enamored of the notion of temporary seasonal work. In fact, few of our brethren raised off the farm, understand the romance.

Few understand the reality farm and ranch families know all too well. The prepping, the irrigating, the weeding, the late nights and the too early mornings are all precedent to the crescendo of the harvest. But, it’s tough finding folks to help for a few months each year to ensure when Americans go to the store or a restaurant, there are choices to be enjoyed.

Thankfully, for the hardy souls who feed us each day, some workers can still be found to help. Unfortunately, there are not enough of them. There are too few, regardless of the wages they’re paid because the grim reality is that not enough city folk encourage their children to become seasonal agricultural laborers. They often want them to go to college, instead.

Consequently, when President Ronald Reagan was in office, Congress developed bipartisan legislation to address this reality of life on American farms and ranches. Historical battle lines were crossed and the comradery that ensued resulted in a bill sent to the president that he signed into law. That legislation recognized the critical importance of American-grown food being available to Americans.

It also provided families struggling to retain their agrarian legacy a chance.

So, today, whether the U.S. unemployment rate is 3.5% as it was in February of this year, a time by which most farm and ranch families had planned their plantings, irrigation, weeding, tending to and ultimate harvest, or, when that same rate reached the horrific levels we see mere weeks later, the folks with skin in the game knew that chance would give them a shot. Even if they couldn’t cajole enough Americans to come out to the place to help, they could recruit temporary workers who would. And, that’s what some did.

Those patriots who received and took advantage of that chance provided them by President Reagan and a Congress that knew how to get along, are heroically working together in one of our nation’s darkest times. They, and their workers, are getting up before dawn each morning. They are lacing up their boots after grabbing a cup of coffee. They’re putting on their caps and they’re going out to work.

Thankfully, they are doing this so that American grown food is available to Americans.

Michael Marsh, president & CEO, National Council of Agricultural Employers

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