Karen Bohnert

If anything good has come from 2020, it is that essential workers finally had a spotlight shined on them. In my opinion, the champions are the first responders, health care workers, and of course, the farmers, too.

Paul Harvey’s words seem appropriate always but were most obvious in 2020. “And on the eighth day, God looked down on his planned paradise and said, ‘I need a caretaker.’ So God made a farmer.”

I know the life all too well. The livelihood of dairy farmers is not for the faint of heart. You wake up early to feed the cows, to milk the cows, and to care for the cows. This all happens before you carve out a 15 minute break to have a little breakfast yourself. Day in and day out, dairy farmers never waiver, steadfast with purpose. Yes, my friends, you are the champions.

When store shelves became bare last spring due to the pandemic, the world realized very quickly how broken our food supply chain is. The U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue spoke the words the best, “Sure, seeing empty shelves across America is unsettling, but what would be worse is seeing empty barns and fields across America.”

Thankfully, fewer farms exited the dairy business in 2020 compared to previous years. Let’s be honest, the world needs dairy farmers, now more than ever before.

I believe in all of you, and I believe in the future of farming. I proudly stood on a stage and recited the FFA creed many moons ago when I sported my blue-and-gold corduroy jacket. While I cannot fit in that jacket today, I remember looking in the audience and seeing my mother’s smile and my father, dressed in his go-to-town flannel, sitting tall and proud in his seat.

I remember being so self-conscious, fumbling a bit with the speech that I had said a hundred times before. Afterward, my heart beamed when my parents were the first to tell me how proud they were of me. It nearly moves me to tears today because they could see past the hiccup in the speech. They were proud to see the beloved words come out of their daughter’s mouth. Words that resembled so much of the fabric of who my parents were and holding on to the true values that would represent the future of farming.

I’ll admit, I probably did not really understand the meaning as I spoke the words of the FFA creed in the 1990s. Life’s heartaches and blessings of living and owning a family dairy farm have given me a crash course, and now I more than understand the “I believe” phrases.

I don’t recite the FFA creed today, but I still cheer loudly for America’s dairy farmers. I believe in you all.

It is simple. Without farmers, we would starve. Nobody wins. One less farmer means more responsibility is being shifted to a fellow farmer. Yes, farmer’s have strong shoulders, but undoubtedly, farmers have even stronger hearts.

Those strong hearts have kept America beating throughout COVID-19. Despite a global pandemic, farmers plowed deep and straight. Opening milk checks in the spring that were nothing short of sad, many dairy farmers wondered how they were going to pay their bills, my farm included. Those worries were worked out during windshield time in tractors in the coming days, as farmers went to the fields to plant the crops.

Talk about faithful. Farmers are just that. Faithful that the crops had to be planted to feed the cows, to make milk, to feed America and our growing world. Faithful in the need and not losing faith over the milk check. Giving faith to a higher power.

God bless the American dairy farmers. Many others might have said, “This is enough.” Thankfully, you have not. My husband responds, “Perhaps it is because this is all we know.” I smile widely and respond by saying, “Passion drives purpose. Thank the good Lord that we have dedicated farmers like you who know how to never give up!”

So, as we readily turned the page on to a New Year, let us not forget the takeaway lessons of 2020. One is showcasing the many essential workers who have become America’s heroes, including those who start their day with the roar of a diesel tractor or the humming of a vacuum pump.

Smile wide, hold your head high, be proud of all that you overcame, and continue to push ahead, accomplishing even bigger goals on your dairy farms this year. Yes, often it takes a crisis, and in our case, a world pandemic, to highlight where there is a break in the system. Agriculture was highlighted because of this.

A long-term impact of COVID-19 might just result in a stronger food supply chain. One can hope, anyway. All I have to say is that I will continue to cheer loud and proud for all you dairy farmers. In return, I just pray that you never lose the faith.

Around the Kitchen Table is a regular column in Hoard's Dairyman. The author and her husband work in partnership with family on a 500-cow dairy in East Moline, Ill.