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Home Grown: Agriculture remains essential industry during coronavirus outbreak

CORONA IMPACTS

YUMA, Ariz. (KECY/KYMA) - The Trump administration has labeled agriculture as a critical industry in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. 

In today’s Home Grown, we talk to one farmer who proves that whether rain or shine, the agriculture industry pushes forward. 

“Agriculture is an essential industry, one of the 16 essential industries identified by our US federal government. There’s lots of work still to be done, lots of work for us to do to make sure that we get food on store shelves. But also a lot of work to be done to modify how we work. Even if we can’t stay at home and work, most of us in agriculture don’t get to stay at home and work,” said John Boelts, owner of Desert Premium Farms.

Many fears are surrounding the spread of the coronavirus outbreak, including whether people will be able to keep their jobs and put food on the table. 

“We are all out here at work. We will continue to work and make sure people have the food and fiber that they depend on each day. So we need to stay safe while working,” said Boelts. 

Farmer John Boelts says he plans to quash those fears his workers may have during this time. 

“There’s a lot of things that are changing, obviously we are concerned about our employees,” said Boelts. 

For Boelts, his farm will continue operating as usual amid potential restrictions created to stem the spread of the virus, of course, with proper safety measures put in place for his staff. 

“There are some points where people have to work together through work, like what you see going on behind me during harvest. It’s pretty impractical to try and do that separate,” said Boelts. 

In recent days, some farmers had been concerned about the potential for movement restrictions put in place to limit exposure to the virus.

“Many people know about 15,000 people cross the border each day to work in agriculture here in Yuma County. Myself and a lot of trade organizations like American Farm Bureau, United Fresh, Produce Marketing Association and Western growers have been working around the clock the last couple of days to work with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and try to make sure that the consulate down in Mexico stays open to allow for processing of H2A workers which are essential right now,” said Boelts. 

This also includes the potential for halted shipment of materials needed for the upcoming planting season.

“We have seen a pretty dramatic uptick in demand for the products that we grow which is good. We never like to see people hoarding, but it is appropriate that people prepared and thinking about ‘maybe I won’t go to the store twice a week, maybe I’ll go every week or two’. It’s important that people only buy what they need,” said Boelts. 

Another big concern is what would happen to harvest season, should workers become infected.

“Our biggest concern is that folks will get it ill at work and take away their ability to work and interrupt their ability to get food in the marketplace. As a secondary thing, obviously our employees' health is first and foremost, but it could have an impact on the food supply,” said Boelts. 

All in all, Boelts assures the community he is working hard to continue to put local produce on your table amid these uncertain times. 

“Keep us in your thoughts and prayers. It’s really some extraordinary and unprecedented times. I think if we all work together and doing the right things, we will all have a lot less to worry about,” said Boelts.

To learn more about the impacts the coronavirus has had on agriculture, click here.

Coronavirus / Yuma County

Arianna Shell

Arianna Shell started her position as a Sunrise reporter in August 2018 in Yuma, Arizona.

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