I was a sophomore in college when Sept. 11 happened. Like everyone else, I remember a lot of confusion in the aftermath of that day. It wasn’t until about a week later when a letter from my father drove home the impact.
“The world has forever changed,” he wrote. That’s the line that stuck in my brain nearly two decades later. My dad wasn’t prone to hyperbole. He didn’t make grand, definitive statements. Of course, his blunt assessment then was correct.
Unfortunately, my father’s words hold true for today’s current crisis.
Like everyone else, farmers and ranchers have seen their world turned upside down in a short amount of time. The year started on a bright note with optimism that new and expanded trade deals would help lift commodity prices from years-long doldrums. The confluence of an oil price war, COVID-19 and the fallout from both have hammered the agricultural sector.
The pain is widespread. Prices have cratered in nearly every corner of agriculture. May corn is down 15 percent from mid-January because of cratering demand for ethanol. Cotton, a small but growing crop in Kansas, is off nearly 30 percent. The “silver lining” for crops is soybeans, down 10 percent.
Despite lower grain prices, livestock producers are seeing freefalling prices as well. Hogs and live cattle are off more than 30 percent, while dairy is off by similar margins.
No marketing plan accounts for such rapid declines. Markets are in turmoil because there’s no basis to guide future decisions. Upended supply chains are straining to recalibrate to the dynamics of our presently slowed society that has wrecked our world.
I can’t imagine the agony of public health officials who face making unprecedented decisions. I can’t imagine the fear health care workers must have going to work every day. I can’t imagine the pain of hospitality workers who’ve lost their livelihoods are enduring. I can’t imagine the grief of families who’ve lost loved ones without being by their side and suffered the further indignity of not holding a funeral.
I can’t imagine what’s going through farmers’ minds with planting decisions looming. I can’t imagine the anguish of ranchers balancing keeping cattle and the daily cost to feed them versus selling at what amounts to fire sale prices. I can’t imagine the rage dairy producers feel when dumping milk.
While I can’t comprehend the situations so many find themselves in, I know we are all struggling to come to grips with enduring this crisis at a distance. I also know there are countless people who are still working behind the scenes to either mitigate the economic effects or end the pandemic.
I know this because I’ve seen it firsthand these past few weeks at Kansas Farm Bureau (KFB), where our mission is to strengthen agriculture and the lives of Kansans through advocacy, education and service.
In addition to KFB staff, county Farm Bureaus and members across the state have stepped up to provide educational resources and opportunities to parents who’ve also become substitute teachers.
A partnership between KFB’s Foundation for Agriculture, county Farm Bureaus and Farm Bureau Financial Services has the ambitious goal of ending hunger in Kansas.
Our advocacy staffers are working with their counterparts at the American Farm Bureau Federation to ensure the U.S. Department of Agriculture understands the needs of Kansas farmers and ranchers as it crafts a relief program authorized in the CARES Act.
Separately these may seem like small things, but they’re small things within our control. That’s how we get past the confusion and gain clarity as we begin to rebuild a world forever changed.
“Insight” is a weekly column published by Kansas Farm Bureau, the state’s largest farm organization whose mission is to strengthen agriculture and the lives of Kansans through advocacy, education and service.