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5 priorities that matter during COVID-19 pandemic

Ag Matters: The coronavirus outbreak gives us time to focus on the importance of agriculture and life.

Chris Chinn

April 28, 2020

4 Min Read
Illustration of chalkboard with 5 priorities: work hard, connect with others, succession planning, slow down and get involved
Illustration by Rosa Pasillas and STILLFX/Getty Images

COVID-19 has affected every segment of our community: churches, diners, grocery stores, schools and especially farms. On our farms and ranches, we’ve been socially distancing since the dawn of time.

But COVID-19 hasn’t differentiated between its effect among urban, rural and farming communities. By design, agriculture is the bedrock for our nation’s food security. The past 60 days in the Midwest have been anything but steady, and certainty has been absent from many rural communities.

It’s easy to get dragged into the information overload each day. With every challenge comes positive lessons. As a state, we’ve been able to quickly move to designate agriculture as essential, waive transportation restrictions on weight and hours of service, help grocery retailers to increase their milk supplies, and so much more. That’s why it’s so important that we have a strong leader in Missouri Gov. Mike Parson — a farmer like us. Agriculture has seen many challenges throughout time, and we know we will get through this challenge together.

Related: Complete coronavirus coverage

When I travel back to our family farm each week, I have the chance to catch up with family and friends, helping me focus on what truly matters. COVID-19 has presented us the opportunity to rethink our priorities:

Agriculture is essential. Every time I log on to social media, I see thank-you messages to those on the frontlines of the COVID-19 response. The list of essential workers provided by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security includes health care professionals, first responders and, of course, food and agriculture. This list places our farmers and ranchers where we knew we always belonged — on the front lines of every emergency. Our priority is always providing safe and healthy food for our families.

FOREVER EDUCATOR: Mr. Charles Coon still takes time to read to children or anyone who wants to listen, such as Missouri Agriculture Director Chris Chinn. The Shelbina Villa shares his readings on its Facebook page. 

Connecting with those who matter. Communicating with family and friends may look different for some people during COVID-19. Technology and social media have allowed friends and family to stay connected. Thanks to technology, I was able to reconnect with a former English teacher of mine, Mr. Charles Coon.

Someone shared a video of Mr. Coon reading a short story on social media, and I saw it. It was a story he read to my class years ago — the sound of his voice brought back many fond memories of my time in his classroom. Every story he read had a life lesson in it, and he always found a way to connect with his students through these stories.

English was always one of my favorite subjects, and Mr. Coon had a tremendous impact on me as a student. I reached out to Mr. Coon and discovered he not only remembered me, but he also has been reading these Missouri Ruralist articles as well. This was a good reminder that our friends, family and loved ones will continue to be the one thing that truly matters during tough times.

Succession planning. The pandemic has raised questions many of us need to be thinking about. One question is, if something happens to me, can someone pay the bills in my absence? During a public health emergency, it’s hard not to focus on the “what-ifs” on our farms and ranches. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to develop a contingency plan for each of the vital roles on your operation and, where possible, cross-train the critical team members to be sure you’re prepared.

Less is more. Do we really need all of the meetings on our calendar? Probably not. As we learn what life is like in slow motion, I think it’s a great time to evaluate how we prioritize our time. Many times, we run way too hard. We try to take every opportunity. We seize every moment. As we reassemble our lives, it will be important to prioritize the things that matter most.

The importance of belonging. The COVID-19 pandemic has reminded me of the strength that resides not only on our farms and ranches, but also in the leadership of our commodity organizations. No matter the organization you choose to pay membership dues to, it is fighting for you during this pandemic. We hear from Missouri’s agriculture organizations on a daily basis. We work closely with these agriculture leaders to take the grassroots challenges we hear from you and find solutions as a team.

We will overcome the short-term and long-term challenges that result from COVID-19 together. Agriculture is accustomed to change. It’s the foundation of every farm and ranch in Missouri. Our farms and ranches will weather this storm together, and we will take the lessons we have learned to strengthen agriculture for the future. 

To learn more about Missouri’s COVID-19 response and recovery plan, visit health.mo.gov.

Chinn is the director of the Missouri Department of Agriculture and a hog producer from Clarence, Mo.

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