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Virus Overshadows Ag Day's Moment


by Jerry Goshert

Published: Friday, March 20, 2020

Opinion

March is the month that agriculture sprouts to life at The Farmer's Exchange.

Yes, we realize that farming is a year-round pursuit and never really stops. But it is also very seasonal, and typically the month of March signals the approach of the much-anticipated growing season. That's one reason why National Ag Day is celebrated close to the first day of spring. This year, however, it's a little later, March 24.

Nevertheless, National Ag Day has been upstaged—even in a popular farm publication such as the Exchange—by another item in the news. By that, we mean the coronavirus, or COVID-19, and it's changing life as we know it in Michiana farm country.

For many folks, the world changed dramatically in one week. Last Wednesday, the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus disease, which originated in China, a pandemic. Two days later, President Trump declared a national emergency in the U.S. In the blink of an eye, it seemed, life went from business as usual to great uncertainty about safety and personal health.

The number of persons infected in the U.S. is constantly changing, but as of Monday, there were 4,740 confirmed cases in 49 states and the District of Columbia, according to the Center for Disease Control. So far, 68 people in the U.S. have died.

Indiana reported its first confirmed case of COVID-19 on March 6. As of Tuesday afternoon, the state had 30 infections and two deaths. The virus has shown up in four area counties, LaPorte, Lake, St. Joseph and Noble.

Michigan had 54 cases of coronavirus as of Tuesday. None of those patients are from our coverage area, but some were close by, in Kent and Ottawa counties.

Just a week ago, there was very little thought given to changing our routines. But last Friday, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb discouraged public gatherings with 250 or more people, and on Monday issued further guidance recommending no in-person events of more than 50 people.

In the days since, we have seen a rash of cancellations and postponements. That includes many Ag Day activities scheduled for March and April, as well as many 4-H meetings, auctions, open houses and public events. Purdue University Extension has cancelled all face-to-face meetings and programs through April 6, and all events expecting 50 or more people through May 2.

At Michigan State University, events with attendance over 50 people on campus are being rescheduled or canceled. No new events with over 50 people expected should be scheduled on campus.

Indiana and Michigan are taking proactive steps to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. The latest information is available at www.in.gov/coronavirus/, Michigan.gov/Coronavirus and CDC.gov/coronavirus.

A partial list of the cancellations and postponements is included at the end of this editorial. For a list of auctions that have been affected, see the Sale Calendar on this website.

In addition to the changes to local agriculture, most area schools have decided to close for several weeks, and some businesses are encouraging their employees to work from home. The governors in both Indiana and Michigan have ordered all restaurants in their respective states to close, except for take-out, delivery and drive-through service.

Mass gatherings are being discouraged—all in the name of social distancing.

According to the CDC, social distancing is critical to preventing the spread of coronavirus, which is highly contagious. This means avoiding crowded places and maintaining distance from others when possible.

Without social distancing, COVID-19 can quickly overwhelm the health care system. Older adults and people who have severe, underlying chronic medical conditions like heart or lung disease or diabetes seem to be at higher risk for developing more serious complications from COVID-19 illness.

The COVID-19 virus is different than influenza. The most obvious difference is that there is no vaccine available to prevent it. The CDC says the best way to prevent the illness is to avoid exposure.

The coronavirus spreads mainly from person to person, through droplets produced when a person coughs or sneezes. But the virus can also survive for up to three days on surfaces like door knobs, railings and tabletops. To reduce exposure, the CDC advises people to wash their hands often and refrain from touching their face. If you are sick, stay home.

Common symptoms may include fever, cough and shortness of breath. General questions may be directed to the Indiana State Department of Health COVID-19 Call Center at 877/826-0011 or epiresource@isdh.in.gov. Contact your local health provider to find the location of a testing center.

As we adapt to this changing situation, Exchange editors have done our best to tell the story of agriculture in our annual Ag Day issue, and our staff is working feverishly to remake ads and publish correct information. When in doubt, make sure you call ahead to see if your event is taking place.

This issue features coverage of several Ag Day events that were held prior to the coronavirus outbreak. However, many others scheduled for April have been cancelled.

This is a good opportunity to point out that while the coronavirus has upset the apple cart, so to speak, it has not prevented any local farmer, to our knowledge, from doing his or her chores. Farmers get up early every day to feed livestock, milk cows and tune up their tractors in preparation for spring planting. Work on the farm never ends. Because of farmers' hard work, we will always have food available. For that unwavering dedication, farmers deserve our thanks and deepest admiration.

A list of area postponements and cancellations:

Area

Purdue University Extension has cancelled all face-to-face meetings and programs through April 6, and all events expecting 50 or more people through May 2. Members are being encouraged to meet through alternative methods such as video.

The Elkhart County 4-H Fair has suspended all fairground events for 30 days, effective last Friday.

All events at the Indiana State Fairgrounds have been suspended indefinitely.

Welcome Centers at select Michigan rest stops have been closed until further notice by MDOT; restrooms will remain open.

Allen

March 18—"Success with Seeds & Seedlings," Extension office, rescheduled for May 6 at 7 p.m. Those who are preregistered can contact the office at 260/481-6826 to confirm. Refunds will be issued to those who are unable to attend on the new date and time.

Cass (Mich.)

April 4—Spring Egg-stravaganza, T.K. Lawless Park—cancelled

April 24-26—Star Party to celebrate dark-sky designation at Lawless Park—postponed

DeKalb

April 21—Ag Days for third-graders, Carnahan farms—postponed to May 5

Elkhart

March 21—The Leprechaun Leap at Re-Pete's Simonton Lake Tavern has been rescheduled for Aug. 8, but Cancer Resources representatives will be on site Saturday from noon-2 p.m. to accept donations for contest consideration. Early entry fees will be refunded upon request.

March 26—Elkhart County CentralStar/DHIA meeting, Dal-Mar Catering, Nappanee—postponed, possibly cancelled

March 31—Elkhart County Farm Bureau "Meet the Candidates" Night, Southgate Crossing—cancelled

Kosciusko

April 14-15—Kosciusko County Ag Days and Taste of Ag (April 14)—cancelled

LaGrange

March 16-20 – Topeka Spring Draft Horse Auction, Topeka Livestock Auction—rescheduled for April 20-24

March 20-21—NTPA Shipshewana Spring Nationals, Michiana Event Center—cancelled

March 20—Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) training, LaGrange County Office Bldg.—cancelled. For those who have already paid for the training, contact the Education Store at Purdue for a refund.

March 28—WOLF Co-op customer appreciation day, Wolcottville—postponed

Noble

March 19—Ag breakfast, fairgrounds—postponed TBA

St. Joseph (Ind.)

April 3-5—St. Joseph County Ag Days, fairgrounds—cancelled

Whitley

April 5—Farm toy show, fairgrounds—cancelled

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