Things are far from business as usual in cities and towns across America this week. Millions of us are being called to serve our neighbors by staying home. Our American Farm Bureau offices in DC have closed for the time being to follow this guidance and to help our employees and their families and neighbors stay safe and healthy. But staying home doesn’t mean that our work stops, and we know that it sure doesn’t mean work on the farm stops. There is a lot beyond our control and still unknown as we face this crisis, but we can focus on and be faithful with the tasks at hand. For farmers and ranchers our calling hasn’t changed, though its importance hits closer to home in times like these: we are committed to rising every day to grow and harvest the food we all depend on.
We can’t do that work alone, however. In the days, weeks and months ahead, agriculture will continue to depend on access to a skilled workforce to help with the work of planting, cultivating and harvesting our crops. For this reason, Farm Bureau is urging our nation’s leaders to classify farm workers as emergency workers on H2A guest-worker visa applications. We understand the Administration’s responsibility to act on behalf of our public health, and we must all do our part to protect the health of our families and communities. We can—and we must—find a way to safely secure access to the workforce agriculture needs to continue our critical work of providing a healthy, affordable food supply for our nation.
We have been blessed with plenty when it comes to America’s food supply. Empty shelves can be frightening, but empty fields and barns would be devastating. Times like these should remind us all of the importance of ensuring our nation’s food security. While many retailers are scaling back and temporarily closing for public health, agriculture remains on call 24/7. As Americans everywhere rush to their local grocery stores, I am reminded of and grateful for the tireless hours farmers and ranchers put in all year long to supply healthy, affordable food to be processed and packaged so stores can restock grocery shelves, produce bins, and meat and dairy cases.
We can also be thankful to live in a time when advances in technology allow us to continue our work and stay connected from a distance. But this national and global crisis, now more than ever before, is a reminder that a reliable broadband connection is a necessity for all, not a luxury to be enjoyed by some. Farmers must be able to stay connected across the supply chain. Students in rural America will need access to online classes as grade schools, high schools and universities shut down for the coming weeks, possibly months. And rural Americans of all ages will depend on access to telemedicine and counseling services to protect and promote well-being throughout this crisis. While the coming weeks will be long for everyone, our friends with no reliable broadband will face a greater challenge in connecting to critical information and services.
Like you, I am praying for a quick end to this pandemic. I also have faith that great stories of service, of neighbors helping neighbors and communities working together (even from a distance) to protect one another will shine brightly across this country.
As any farmer knows, only too well, not one of us was promised we’d never face tough times. But I do believe that the Lord gives us grace to face each day and to handle the tasks He has set before us. Let us each face this day with a heart to serve our neighbors, with endurance to finish the day’s work, and with courage to get up and do it again tomorrow.
Vincent “Zippy” Duvall, a poultry, cattle and hay producer from Greene County, Georgia, is the 12th president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.