Michael Marsh

Aug 2, 2021
Normalcy elusive as farm operations press on

Tomorrow my day will begin long before dawn, just as most days start for the farmers and ranchers I work with. However, instead of heading into the field or a pasture, I will be heading into an airplane for a long flight. It almost feels normal.

The last time I saw my dad it was March 2020. It has been over a year. COVID-19 intervened. But now, fully vaccinated, I will be getting on a plane in the morning as the sun just starts to wash the Capitol in its rise’s orange hue, to make the journey home to celebrate Father’s Day with mine. I am looking forward to it.

It almost feels like normal. But it is not.

The same can be said for the experience of many around the country. This is doubtlessly true for the hearty folks I know who are likewise getting up before the crack of dawn in rural America. They are arising to get their day going, making sure that our nation can eat.

It almost feels normal. But it is not.

I will get to the airport early to check a bag and move at a snail’s pace going through security. My face will be masked as I go about my airport experience and will stay masked as I board the plane, and will remain that way until I depart the terminal at my destination. Not exactly normal.

Farmers and ranchers will go about their daily chores. They will check on their workers to make sure everyone is feeling good before the workers start their day. Someone will be sure to check the temperatures of the crew, others will see to it that the handwashing stations are set to go, while someone else will finish sanitizing the days’ transportation and then ensure that all are appropriately socially distanced as they find their seats for the ride to the field. Not exactly normal.

And, because things are not normal, the National Council of Agricultural Employees (NCAE) has been exploring what employers can do to get us back to normal.

NCAE collaborated with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on a pilot project, testing farmworkers for COVID. Nearly 88% of the pilot project’s participants were farm workers of NCAE members. Interestingly, the preliminary data from this project revealed that just 1.3% of all the workers tested were positive for COVID. This project data was used by other governmental agencies as they reviewed proposed new mandatory protocols and ascertained the propriety of what the regulators were presuming to be the necessity of new structures placed on farmers and ranchers. The agencies found necessity to be lacking. A step toward normal.

This collaboration between NCAE and CDC has blossomed into another. The CDC has provided NCAE and our members with information regarding protecting our workers and ourselves from this too often deadly disease. We have held listening sessions between members and the experts at the CDC to discover how the Centers can better assist farm and ranch families in protecting essential workers. And we are consulting with the CDC about additional opportunities to vaccinate farmworkers to protect them against COVID. The agency is extremely impressed with efforts already undertaken by employers to do just that. A step toward normal.

It almost feels normal. But it is not.

However, the steps toward normal we are taking today will allow us to learn how to run once again. The steps we have already taken have been frustrating, time consuming, costly and difficult, but they have proved to be well worth it. If we keep up the good work, together we will return to normal.

I am looking forward to seeing my dad and celebrating with him. It will almost feel normal.

— Michael Marsh, president & CEO, National Council of Agricultural Employers

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