Even as many private businesses and public spaces close their doors in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, staff and faculty with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture are using alternate means to assist Arkansans.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a recommendation that public gatherings should be limited to no more than 10 individuals. While much of the work of agricultural production relies on the efforts of singular individuals and small teams of farmers working vast fields, many other aspects of life have been disrupted.
In many rural parts of the state, the county extension offices are located within their respective county courthouses, which have been closed to the general public, or are open on an appointment-only basis.
Sherry Beaty-Sullivan, extension staff chair in Polk County, said the office’s doors are locked, but staff is still responding to phone calls and emails.
“We’ve established a drop box for soil and plant samples outside of our office, so that we may continue to serve our clientele as best as we can during this time,” Beaty-Sullivan said.
While inconvenient, the lockdown has given her staff the opportunity to take care of paperwork and planning that often gets put off during the typically busy spring planting season, she said.
In Pope County, Family and Consumer Science Agent Pamela Luker adapted what would have been an in-person nutrition seminar for residents of a nearby drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility, into an online presentation.
“I can’t be there physically, but we’ve decided to hold a Zoom session,” Luker said, referring to the online video conferencing platform. “The audience will be able to interact with me, watch what I’m doing, and learn how to prepare a nutritious meal.”
Luker said she was also completing a series of videos to share with local schools, which can in turn share them with students and parents. Luker said her videos will include the 4-H program’s “Yoga for Kids,” and other activities for children who may be studying from home for the next several weeks or longer.
Key pesticide applicator certification to help farmers prepare for planting season was also taken online.
Ironically, the things holding up agricultural production in the state have almost nothing to do with a pandemic, but rather intermittent rains that have kept soils saturated in many areas of Arkansas. Chris Grimes, extension agricultural agent for Craighead County, said that growers in his area have been waiting for a dry spell long enough to prepare their fields for planting.
“With the modern equipment, they can make a lot of progress in a short period of time,” Grimes said. “But it’s just been pretty quiet, waiting for that day to get here.”
He said most seed retailers and other farm supply retailers in the area remained open as of this week, and that they would likely be unaffected by any domestic or foreign trade disruption, at least in the short term.
“Even if everyone sets out to begin prepping and planting at the exact same moment, I think we’ll be fine,” he said. “Most retailers already have the seed, fertilizers and other chemicals in their warehouses.”