Your Field Day is Buffering: Sustainable Ag Navigates a Pandemic

Mitchell and Zach standing in field examining soil and plants

Your Field Day is Buffering: Sustainable Ag Navigates a Pandemic

At the beginning of 2020, farm incomes were expected to rise.  Now they’re expected to dip as commodity prices slump amidst a global pandemic. 

So that raises the question: what is the outlook for sustainable ag in this environment? 

Lauren Lurkins, the Director of Environmental Policy at the Illinois Farm Bureau, is among those trying to figure that out.

“The beauty of an organization like Farm Bureau is the fact that we bring humans together to talk, to support each other, to yell at each other, and to debate,” Lurkins said. “We can't do that in a way that we feel supports them at this time. So that's a big, big struggle.”

The field days Lurkins had planned for this summer will reconfigure virtually. The plus side of that doing them over, say, Zoom is that far more people can experience the field day. The down side of presenting something on, say, bioreactors over Zoom is, according to Lurkins, that it’s harder to tell if the information is resonating.

When you’re meeting in person, she said, “you can see that they're jazzed about what you're talking about.” 

It’s also harder to get policymakers’ attention in the current situation, she said. 

“That is incredibly difficult. That is relationship building. That's that 'Hey, let's head over here over a cup of coffee and let me talk to you.’"

Still, Lurkins said the compulsion to go digital will probably not go away-- and will layer onto other things they do when social distancing abates.

Field Work co-host Mitchell Hora agreed. He recently held a Field Day on his Iowa Farm and streamed it on Facebook Live. It has drawn 1,600 viewers-- a much greater audience than he could attract in person.

“People from all over the world can tune in-- people that would never have access to this field day if they had to be there in person,” he said.

Fellow host Zach Johnson also sees some of the efficiencies wrought during the pandemic. In some cases, they might make it easier for folks to share ideas about conservation, noting that he and Mitchell have recorded some recent podcast episodes over Zoom instead of in a recording studio.

“I think COVID has caused us to move a little bit more forward when it comes to being more efficient,” he said. “We don't have to go to D.C. to have a meeting. We don't have to be together for this podcast.”