By Adam Austing, University of Minnesota Extension Educator
As we learn more and more about the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems to be harder and harder to predict how long this crisis could last. So as we creep closer and closer to the growing season, I have been wondering how this respiratory virus might affect Wright County farmers that might contract it.
There are a little less than 700 Wright County farmers that are over age 65, which makes up over 31 percent of the county’s farmer population. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), those roughly 700 farmers are in the age category at higher risk for serious illness. This means that farmers, and those that work with farmers, should be following preventive guidelines. These guidelines from the CDC include washing hands, staying home as much as possible, and avoiding close contact with others. These are a few simple things we can do to keep each other healthy. When the growing season kicks off in the next month or two, I urge everyone that works with farmers to be mindful of these recommendations and do everything we can to keep our farmers healthy and in the field this spring.
Farmers and their families often do less traveling and naturally experience fewer physical encounters because of their lives in rural Minnesota. This may lead us to believe that social distancing will be an easy task for our farmers. However, many of the places that farmers encounter people- such as their kids’ schools, their churches, and local stores- are changing the
way they operate. If the places where our farmers are normally interacting with others become unavailable, “social distancing” may quickly start to feel like “isolation.”
A lot of these institutions are using online communication resources to compensate for closures. This is usually a good solution, but definitely is not helpful for the 20 percent of Wright County farmers that do not have internet access. On top of that, some farmers have internet access, but not connections capable of handling the high-speed requirements of video conferencing, webinars, and other means of virtual connection. Although many farmers are on the cutting edge of technology use, we are finding out that our rural internet infrastructure is lacking for some of our farms.
The University of Minnesota is following recommendations for social distancing and all in-person Extension events are canceled through March 31. Extension is still here to help if you have questions related to agriculture, horticulture, or yard and garden. Please contact me, Adam Austing, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (763) 682-7381 if you have questions, concerns, ideas, or just want to talk about the 2020 planting season. During this time, Extension is offering many online learning opportunities at extension.umn.edu/courses-and-events.