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Looking back

Erica Ramsey Louder for Progressive Forage Published on 02 March 2021

Last month, we attended the Gem State Classic Bull and Female Sale. It’s a yearly tradition for us. We come as spectators, sometimes as buyers and once as a consigner.

As typical in our pandemic world, the experience was different than in the past, and maybe because we were approaching the “pandemic anniversary,” I was acutely aware of the differences. There were fewer consigners, fewer in-person buyers, some masked faces and many unmasked faces. Overall, there was an undertone of fatigue by the auctioneer. The agriculture community is an adaptable bunch of folks, but I felt the overwhelming hope that by the 2022 sale, things would be “back to normal.”

I saw a meme the other day that said, “What are you wearing to the anniversary of 14 days to flatten the curve?” I remember when I thought it would all be over by summer and then surely by the time school started. Early last spring, our state governments asked us to do our part. We were told to stay home, we were encouraged to sew our own face masks and to social distance – a term that I will forever associate with 2020, no matter where it pops up again in the future.

As farmers and ranchers, 2020 was a roller coaster. I remember the sick feeling last April as a neighboring dairyman told me about dumping bulk tanks full of milk down the drain and the $8 per hundredweight he was promised by his co-op the next month. While maybe it was most dramatically seen in the dairy industry, this kind of price drop was felt almost industrywide, as the retail-food landscape shifted dramatically away from food service. The federal government and the USDA rolled out emergency relief for the industry in hopes of keeping farms farming and the food market stable. By the end of the summer, prices had recovered in most sectors, and I heard one rancher say that with government payments and the sale of his calves, 2020 was his best year in the past 10. We continue to ride that roller coaster.

Late last fall came surprising media coverage for the industry as farming and agriculture was named by Gallup as the most trusted industry in the U.S. This came as a surprise to me because I often feel like we are fighting an uphill battle to educate consumers about modern agriculture. With store shelves empty in spring 2020, many consumers must have keenly felt the possibility of food insecurity. If there is one bright spot for the industry in all of this, it is the newfound appreciation for farmers by the greater public.

Looking back on 2020 and the upheaval the COVID-19 pandemic created, I feel a deep sense of gratitude to be part of this industry and the rural landscape I call home, even as I hold on tight for the next turn of the roller coaster.  end mark

PHOTO: The Louder family makes bull sales part of their regular winter activities. Photo by Lynn Jaynes.