In the Midst of a Global Crisis, Agriculture Can Shine

Originally published in the Western Livestock Journal

The COVID-19 pandemic shuffled priorities for individuals around the globe. Hospitals feel the stretch of sick patients, telling some sick individuals to stay at home. Congress has focused their attention to assisting the country through a series of aid packages. Some national parks have even closed their gates.

It’s an ever-changing landscape that has required this country to refocus priorities. Front and center in this focus is food.

Over the past several weeks, virtually every American has been required to confront the harsh reality that their access to food will change during this crisis. Most Americans have never considered a world where food supply would be limited or access would be anything less than immediate, and for that, we are immensely lucky. By and large, we are comfortable that when we visit the grocery store, there will be food on the shelves. When we don’t want to cook at home, we can visit a restaurant. As a result of COVID-19, all of that has changed.

Restaurants continue to close in waves and half-stocked shelves at the supermarkets sparked widespread panic. This crisis has had many consumers thinking about where their food will come from and questioning our country’s ability meet the demands of a population of 330 million.

Through the swelling uncertainty, American agriculture did not waver. We bring a positive and uplifting message, telling America that farmers and ranchers are not closed for business.

Our food system is robust, resilient, and in many ways, independent. Ranchers provide a steady supply of high-quality food to the American people, and the media has taken notice. This message was shared across many big publications like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal as they reported on the strong supply of food across America and highlighted the barriers we need to remove to ensure it can make its way to store shelves.

Even more, agriculture was recognized as a critical industry by the Department of Homeland Security when the Department published their list of ‘essential’ personnel. The “Food and Agriculture” section of the critical industry personnel list is comprehensive and includes workers up and down the supply chain. This broad list allows personnel engaged in the raising, processing, transportation, packaging (and more) to continue their normal course of work without interruption during this crisis. This means that we can keep moving feed, fuel, and livestock and make sure it gets there on time.

While our family is busy preparing for calving, I am at ease knowing we have a strong and respected voice in Washington D.C. that is addressing the potential long-term impacts COVID-19 could bring agriculture for the rest of 2020. As public land ranchers, we need functioning agencies to ensure we can turn out onto our allotments as planned. Even more, while we are lambing, calving, and busy with our spring work, Congress is also juggling the responsibility to appropriate funds for the next fiscal year, which ends nearly 18 months away. We’re also not too far away from the start of the 2020 wildfire season, so Congress and the Administration must make sure we will have trained, well-equipped fire crews this year. These issues and more are being addressed thanks to a small but respected team in the nation’s capital.

Like so many others, we experienced firsthand market shocks in the midst of the COVID-19 financial panic. As we move on with our day-to-day work, I can’t help but wonder what we will be dealing with when the time comes to market our steers and calves. I do rest easier knowing that we all have a strong, effective team staying in close contact with Congress and the various agencies. Your Public Lands Council team continually works toaddress issues before they become problems on the ground. Working with your PLC affiliate, individual problems are elevated from the rancher to the highest level of government.

I know how hard it is to stay positive, but don’t forget the encouraging change that we are seeing in spite of these crazy times. The American consumer is waking up to the fact that American agriculture is keeping their food chain stable. We have been recognized and designated a “critical industry”. Each of these things is helping us work through this time and will help us when things return to something closer to normal. Most importantly, KNOW that you have a strong, highly-respected team looking out for all of us.

Niels Hansen
Rawlins, Wyo.
Vice President of the Public Lands Council