In coronavirus crisis, our farmers and ranchers are pandemic heroes

The nation's farmers are to be applauded

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There are many heroes on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic – health care workers, first responders, postal employees and law enforcement. An often unrecognized group is once again rising to the demand of the times: America's farmers and ranchers.

During this unprecedented national shutdown, Americans are sheltering in place for extended periods of time with many only venturing out to stock up on essentials, like paper goods, toiletries and, of course, food. Between March 11 and March 18, grocery sales surged by 79 percent compared to the same time last year. That’s a lot of product flying off shelves.

FARMERS EXPAND DELIVERIES DURING CORONAVIRUS OUTBREAK

Grocery store employees are to be commended for keeping stores shelved, despite the risk to their own health.

In this photo taken March 20, 2020, cattle rancher Joe Whitesell rides his horse in a field near Dufur, Oregon, as he helps a friend herd cattle. (AP Photo/Gillian Flaccus)

Likewise, the nation's farmers are to be applauded for ensuring that fresh, nutritious food remains abundant, available and affordable. At American Humane, we have seen firsthand how farmers are stepping up to the plate for families across the nation.

While the share of Americans employed in direct on-farm jobs over the decades has shrunk, there are still so many hardworking people who keep our food supply abundant. More than 1.18 million workers are employed in agriculture, according to the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages. Those individuals aren't spending time at home, they're still working on farms and ranches.

Producers are implementing new policies and protocols to keep their workers safe and healthy while keeping families fed. American Humane works with producers who take food safety and animal welfare seriously, complying with over 200 science-based standards developed by our Scientific Advisory Committee.

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We are seeing farmers adapt their operating procedures adeptly and safely in real-time. Their previous commitment to quality enables them to adapt to hurdles presented by the novel coronavirus.

Food isn't just being raised differently; it's being processed differently as well. Before this pandemic, Americans allocated more than half of their food budget to eating out, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For food companies, that means a lot of product is grown, raised and packaged for restaurants. While a hurdle at the moment, many companies are nimbly switching their production for grocery stores.

Many food companies are facing difficult financial decisions including the possibility of furloughing some growers. We've heard firsthand that financially stable, established growers in some areas are voluntarily accepting furlough to ensure that newer, more-recently established growers who may have more debt can continue seeing a cash flow during this difficult time.

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In fact, farm operations that we work with are going above and beyond to help their communities, and the nation as a whole, cope with the impacts of the coronavirus.

Rose Acre Farms, an American Humane CertifiedTM egg producer in Knob Noster, Missouri is donating humanely raised eggs to children in their community put in a tough spot due to school cancellations.

Other producers are looking for ways to help beyond food. In Michigan, Herbruck's Poultry Ranch is donating over 10,000 N95 medical masks to caregivers and medical workers.

There are humane farmers and ranchers in every community that are keeping Americans fed.

They deserve our thanks and praise.

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Robin Ganzert is the president and CEO of American Humane.