Taking care and farming through it all

Written by Ernie Verslues on .

The COVID-19 pandemic crisis that engulfs us has been elevated via minute-to-minute updates broadcast by news sources and social media, some credible, some questionable. The hysteria has heightened our fear of the un­known, which is quite often the biggest challenge to overcome in times of uncertainty.

History can be an illuminating teacher. During World War II, Win­ston Churchill was a crucial figure in the Allied war efforts. While Churchill didn’t coin the phrase “keep calm and carry on,” he used it to help stabilize Britain during the turmoil of war. Churchill’s calm came from his ability to draw on experience and concentrate on the things he could control.

We aren’t at war, but a steady hand is still wise in our current situation. The way many of us work, play, learn and even worship has changed for the short term and likely, to some degree, even longer.

Despite the difficult economic climate, U.S. farmers and ranchers are still committed to their role in food security. Livestock will be cared for, nutrients will be applied to fields and pastures, and crops will be planted. It’s what you do.

I think we would all agree—we didn’t need a governmental ruling declaring agriculture as essential critical infrastructure and giving us the authority to continue operat­ing as usual. “Usual,” in this case, means restrictions to enforce social-distancing guidelines and orders to stay home and shelter in place.

As the events of this spring unfolded, leadership throughout MFA was involved in conversations and plans for something we have never had to face. For production agriculture, this pandemic hit at a critical time. The spring season brings heightened demand for people, products, and services. An already challenging time has been made more difficult.

From a service provider and supplier standpoint, MFA identi­fied the health and safety of our employees and customers as the No. 1 issue to address. The decision to restrict customer access to our staff and facilities was tough to make. However, we only have a short window of opportunity each spring. Adequate staff is the only way we provide the service you need. Yet, from a risk standpoint, it was not a good idea to go about business as usual.

Our next obligation was to de­liver a timely and adequate supply of inputs. This included adjusting the timing of product movement through our system. It also meant working with vendors to identify limitations in the overall distri­bution system. As of this writing, the supply distribution system has responded and kept adequate supply available. In some instances, delivery was impacted by long lines at fertilizer terminals. As many of you know, this is an issue we face any year in which the season is compressed into tight windows.

We believe we took the steps necessary to keep our business op­erating efficiently while protecting our employees and customers. We found ways to get the job done.

We also believe we must do our part to provide for those in need, especially in this time of crisis. The MFA Incorporated Charitable Foundation was established in 2005 for just that purpose. A key focus of this foundation is on rural communities in our trade area.

The MFA Charitable Founda­tion’s first action as the pandemic reached close to home was to provide funding to regional food banks, which have seen significant­ly increased need. The foundation delivered $52,000 to food banks and pantries, including all six food banks in Missouri as well as agen­cies serving our communities in Iowa, Kansas and Arkansas.

The foundation also approved an additional $110,000 for organiza­tions in those same areas to use in response efforts or to relieve hard­ships communities have incurred due to COVID-19. We are currently working to identify those needs.

We live in an unprecedented time. We face a challenge no one could have anticipated—a chal­lenge that has devastated markets and led to financial stress in your operations.

As consumers, our thoughts and prayers go out to those who pro­duce the safe, healthy and afford­able food we have the opportunity to enjoy each day.

That thought brings me to a quote by a farmer that says it all:

“Some people say you can’t make a living farming. I just tell them do­ing anything else really isn’t living at all.”