Farming is not famed for its predictability. Every season, farmers and ranchers brace for the unknown: unforeseeable weather, difficult growing conditions, volatile markets and a multitude of other challenges that can deliver a windfall harvest, or 12 hard months of barely scraping by. But even when accounting for the unpredictability that naturally accompanies growing crops, milking cows and raising cattle, Idaho farmers and ranchers today face a level of market disruption that has not been seen in living memory.
Here in Idaho, the long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to reverberate throughout farming communities. During a season that should have been characterized by favorable weather and high yields, Idaho’s farmers and ranchers instead watched helplessly from the sidelines as restaurants shuttered, supply chains buckled and their successful harvests were suddenly left with no place to go. But even amid this crisis, we have seen inspiring acts of kindness from farmers and ranchers across the state.
Rather than watch their crops rot in storage, many of Idaho’s farmers decided to instead give their harvests away for free, inviting in the community to come by their farms and take what they could carry. Idaho dairies continue to send milk to those in need through the Curds + Kindness program, and ag producers throughout the state have donated their crops to food banks, shelters and at-risk communities.
This is what our farmers and ranchers dedicate their lives to: producing something that helps, sustains and nourishes people. But family farms cannot survive on goodwill alone. Just as they keep American families fed, they too need to feed their families, pay their employees, and stay solvent to see another season.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, I have worked with all of the Idaho delegation and Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to address our farmers’ and ranchers’ needs. Secretary Perdue has led the USDA in purchasing surplus crops, finding new pathways for products to get to those in need, and instituted the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program. This assistance is critical to helping farmers survive this storm, but our agricultural economy will only survive with the strong support of our communities.
The very best way people can show their support for Idaho’s agricultural producers is by gratefully and graciously enjoying the fruits of their labor. The next time you visit the grocery store, pick up some Idaho potatoes or milk from Idaho’s dairy cows. Grill a steak from cattle raised in the Gem State’s wide-open spaces and pair it with peas and lentils cultivated in the Palouse. Everything that you do helps, and Idaho’s farmers and ranchers thank you for helping them weather a season of life that’s been unlike any other.
As we work to safely reopen our economy, never underestimate the importance of farmers in America. Farmers don’t take holidays, they don’t take weekends, and they don’t take breaks during the most unprecedented global pandemic in living memory. Idaho’s farmers and ranchers have dedicated their lives to feeding our families — no matter the challenges — and for that we are grateful.
Jim Risch is an Idaho senator.