Bird Flu: Another Pandemic?

As of this writing, in 2024 only three dairy farm workers have caught this virus. However, the concern is that it has been transmitted to humans from dairy cows and could potentially be transmitted from human to human. As of today, there is no evidence that it has transferred from person to person.

We spoke to Dr. Kenneth Odde, veterinarian, beef cattle operator, and former Professor at Kansas State University. who stated:

“The risk of a pandemic is very low. It will never be zero, but with everything I understand, it is low”. 

Let’s start at the beginning…

In 1996, H5N1 was first detected in domestic waterfowl in southern China. It then spread to farmed poultry. A small number of people caught the virus who worked in very close proximity to their birds: touching, feeding, and cleaning their cages.

Over time, 860 people were identified with the virus and there was a 50% death rate.  Governments and companies around the world began preparing for a pandemic.

However, the virus stayed mainly in Asia and was fairly dormant until 2003 when it affected widespread poultry.

Wild birds then spread H5N1 to Africa, the Middle East, and Europe. The H5N1 virus continues to evolve and has become well-adapted to spread efficiently among wild birds and poultry. In 2021, new variants of the H5N1 virus were spread by wild birds in the U.S. and Canada.

Because wild birds easily spread it, commercial poultry flocks have been affected across the country.  H5N1 is highly pathogenic (deadly) to birds, and when one bird gets it, the entire flock is at risk and is culled. While not as prevalent, this has affected backyard poultry operations as well.

In March of 2023, we wrote about how H5N1 has affected mammals all over the country: sea lions, minks, otters, foxes, and even bears.  At the time, the CDC said that these bird flu viruses didn’t have the ability to bind to the human respiratory system.

H5N1 in the news today

The concern today is that the virus has spread from wild birds to dairy cows.

Unlike birds, dairy cows are only mildly sick for about 7 – 10 days. Once a bird infects one cow, the virus spreads from cow to cow by contact with either through their respiratory system and/or unpasteurized milk droplets. For instance, workers could unknowingly spread the unpasteurized milk among cows.  Or the milking equipment and transport vehicles could carry droplets of infected milk.

So far, in 2024, there have been three human cases with dairy farm workers. As a result, two individuals just had a minor eye infection which was easily resolved with antiviral medicine. The third did get flu-like symptoms and recovered with Tamiflu.

Because this is not widely tested among people, it is hard to know if more farm workers have had flu-like symptoms that would be attributed to H5N1. Symptoms can appear to be a mild cold or flu. Neither of these would make one think to go to a Dr. for an Avian Influenza test.

But there are a lot of unanswered questions. Why do some birds and animals react differently to the same virus?  For instance, why do mammals such as sea lions, otters, and bears die from H5N1, and dairy cows can recover?

Dr. Odde explained that there is a difference in how a species receives the virus. Recent research shows that the receptor influences influenza symptoms within poultry or mammals. Receptors are proteins within the body that let a virus enter the cell.  He also emphasized that many studies are being conducted right now to understand how the virus passes between and among species.

As you know, the best way to stay healthy is to wash your hands before touching your nose, eyes, and mouth. This is because humans have receptors in our respiratory system and you can get sick when a virus touches our respiratory system. The same principle applies to H5N1. Dr. Odde also reminded us that we have had much exposure to the flu over the decades so that humans will have some resistance to H5N1.

Chickens seem to be more susceptible as they receive the virus through their trachea in their respiratory system. Ducks do not have the same mortality rate and early studies show that the virus enters the cells through a different receptor.

Dairy cows receive the virus in their mammary glands as well as their respiratory system. This is not common and is a cause for concern for the replication of H5N1. As of this writing, H5N1 has been detected in 12 states and 92 herds.

Sources for USDA data: Commercial flock detections by state; HPAI in domestic livestock

Is our food safe?


There is no need to be worried about the milk from the grocery store. The pasteurization process kills all bacteria and viruses.  99% of all dairy farmers who sell milk for public consumption follow the Pasteurized Milk Ordinance and participate in the Grade “A” milk program.

To be sure this applied with H5N1, the FDA took milk samples from retail locations in 17 states representing 132 milk processing locations in 38 states. H5N1 was not present in any of the samples.

Raw milk poses the danger. Some people think that raw milk has more amino acids, vitamins, and minerals and is a better choice for your immune system. That is not necessarily true as homogenization and pasteurization doesn’t kill the benefits of milk, it only kills the pathogens. Drinking raw milk, can lead to food-borne illnesses, including H5N1 if it is present.

Eggs are safe to eat. Because Avian Influenza rapidly affects a poultry flock, the eggs are not sold on the market. However, like milk, if you cook your eggs properly and do not eat a raw egg, the chance of getting H5N1 is reduced even further.

The USDA is confident that the meat supply is safe. Ground beef samples were collected in states where dairy herds have tested positive for H5N1 and no virus particles were present. Cooking burgers to 120, 145, and 160 degrees Fahrenheit ensures further safety.

The USDA also reminds us that safe poultry follows the same guidelines as all meats. If handled and cooked properly, poultry is safe. As a reminder, CLEAN, SEPARATE, COOK, and CHILL are good guidelines for safe food in your kitchen.

Backyard poultry can also be affected by wild birds. If one of your chickens dies unexpectedly, you should get it tested by your veterinarian. Also, wash your hands after handling your chickens and the eggs. And of course, cook your eggs properly.

How is the government maintaining food safety with H5N1?

Three government agencies are focused on solving Avian Influenza:

  • The FDA is testing milk, poultry, and beef to ensure it is safe
  • The CDC  protects public health, actively monitors the situation, and provides updates
  • The USDA is overseeing dairy producers and proper herd management

In particular, the USDA has added $824 million, to the $1.3 million designed for poultry, to give dairy producers the ability to monitor the health of their herds with continual testing to understand the scope of H5N1.

Once a farm has been disease-free for three weeks, they can then move their animals to different farms.  This will also give the USDA an understanding of how producers with affected herds can show elimination of the virus.

Going beyond just the USDA, we spoke to Dr. Lisa Koonin, Founder and Principal at Health Preparedness Partners which helps businesses, nonprofits and governments plan for future health emergencies. She is also an Adjunct Professor at Indiana University. During her 30+ year career at the CDC, she worked as a Director and Deputy Director of the agency’s Influenza Coordination Unit.

“For every human infection that occurs, we are that much closer to a pandemic because the virus adapts to a human and can spread to other people or to animals and then to people.”

– Dr. Lisa Koonin

Dr. Koonin identified six suggestions for these agencies to prevent H5N1 from a widespread dairy pandemic.

  • Increase virus surveillance. Test dairy workers and cows in both affected and non-affected areas
  • Increase wastewater testing. Sewers that test positive for viruses and bacteria can give us an early warning if it is in the community.
  • Promote worker safety. Make sure that farm workers have protective equipment available.
  • Communicate with farmers and producers. It is important that those who operate dairy production and poultry farms know how to test, prevent and detect outbreaks.
  • Stay away from raw milk. Raw milk can contain a number of disease-causing viruses and bacteria, including H5N1.
  • Communicate with the public. It is important that current information about what is known about the outbreak is provided to the public in a timely way. People should avoid close, long, or unprotected exposures to sick or dead animals, including wild birds, poultry, other domesticated birds, and other wild or domesticated animals (including cows).
  • Prepare vaccines. It is not known if this virus will spread and become a widespread outbreak. However, several countries are developing and procuring vaccines just in case they are needed.

Ag careers grow beyond the farm

Do what you love to do, and you’ll never work a day in your life.

So what is it you love to do?

  • Being in the great outdoors, enjoying all Mother Nature has to offer.
  • Peering into a test tube, unlocking the secrets science has to offer.
  • Interacting with other people, to accomplish important things.
  • Building and producing things with your own hands and imagination.
  • Helping people learn valuable lessons that make life better and more fulfilling.
  • Nurturing and caring for others.
  • Providing a safe, secure and healthy home for those you love.
    …Or something completely different?

In today’s world, it can be almost anything. We all want to do what we love. We want to do something not just enjoyable, but meaningful, too – something that matters not just to us individually, but to the world around us as well.

That drive to combine self-fulfillment with the betterment of the world around us defines a characteristic of the emerging generation of the American workforce.

For the young people seeking not just a job but also a lasting, rewarding career, the task of finding a way of making a living doing what you love may seem daunting.

Just finding any job can be tough. Finding the job may seem like a real challenge.

Where are those opportunities to be found? At Dirt to Dinner, we are perhaps a bit biased. But in our efforts to tell stories from all along the chain from dirt to dinner, we’ve been amazed at the world of opportunities within our food and agriculture system.

Our amazing food system has something to offer for virtually every type of persona and personality – not just jobs, but lasting opportunities for personal and professional satisfaction and reward.

Anyone who believes the food sector can’t compete with the glamor and prestige of other sectors of our economy in offering rewarding careers is simply and sadly mistaken.

Want to do something you love in the work you do. Think long and hard about what the food and agriculture sector has to offer.

You don’t have to run with the herd

Jobs in food and agriculture have real appeal for lots of younger people today, especially those with solid roots in the middle America and Middle American values.

Part of the interest seems linked to a recognition among those with rural roots of the importance of maintaining a vibrant, productive food sector. They see every day just how critical our food system is to feed a hungry world, and provide the economic vitality that keeps rural America alive and well. Food and agriculture are part of their DNA already.

But the appeal doesn’t end there. It’s not just young people from rural areas who see a future in the sector.

The interest extends to people defined less by geographic origins than personality type. That’s where the food and agriculture sector has its real strength. There’s a rewarding career opportunity for virtually every personality type – multiple avenues to finding exactly the thing you love to do.

What is your personality?

The textbook definition of personality is deceptively simple. It’s the characteristic way a person thinks, feels and behaves.

Each of us is an individual – a unique person, with our own likes, dislikes, sources of joy and fulfillment, and aspirations. But we nonetheless fall into types of personalities. Most of us have seen the concept up close and personal at some point in our lives.

It might have been high school, or a job application, or any of dozens of pathways to something like the Myers Briggs Type Indicator. Tests like this help identify personality types and organize them into logical groupings.

Whatever labels we choose to apply to our diversity of personality types, the ability of the food and agriculture sector to accommodate them becomes very apparent very quickly.

Consider just a few of the possibilities…

The Scientist And Discoverer

So you really like science. You love the challenge of figuring things out, and using your skills to create new things. The world needs what you have to offer – and no one more so than people who eat.

Scientists play an essential role in finding new and better ways to produce not just more food but also healthier and more nutritious food. They hold the key to finding new and better plant varieties, more resistant to pests and helping renew the soil, or animals that grow faster, with less need for feed and water.

They formulate better food and feed ingredients, and more diverse sources of the proteins, oils, sweeteners and other essential components of a heathy diet. The list of potential areas of discovery and development is virtually endless, but here are just a few to get you started:

The Innovator and Inventor

This personality type sees things that others don’t see, and brings new ideas to life. They look for ways to do things better, and they see the potential within new technologies and modern science.

Creating new tools for an evolving global food system demands exactly this mindset and the skills that come with it. Different ways of making the same food. New farm equipment offering greater control in applying fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. Remote control equipment. New food processing tools and systems. Better integration of computer controls and automation. The potential for rewarding careers – and an improved food system – are practically limitless. Consider this just a couple of options:

The Teacher and Educator

All the knowledge in the world may be useless unless it is shared. Making smart decisions about our food demands the right information, delivered effectively. It may be in educating people about healthy diets and nutrition, or food storage and preparation. It may focus on helping people understand where their food comes from, and how it is produced.

This important career helps build the consumer understanding and support for producers and others across the food chain from dirt to dinner.

The Marketer and Communicator

Today’s food system offers the widest variety of food choices in history. So how do consumers make smart decisions about what to buy and consume? Marketers and communicators fill this need – not just by hawking a particular brand or product but just as important by providing a steady stream of valuable information about the food products on our shelves.

What are the product’s nutritional content? How do they promote health and well-being? Do they meet our expectations for fair treatment of suppliers, sustainable environmental practices and other socially responsible considerations? They use the latest communication tools and technologies – such as social media – to create new channels for reaching larger, more diverse audiences. These marketing roles you commonly see across all industries, including:

The Business Manager

Guiding the activities of a successful enterprise can be a satisfying and rewarding career path. Few if any enterprises can match the challenges and satisfactions that come from managing a modern farm. Agronomy, logistics, supply chain management, finance, labor – all demand skill and attention.

Others in the food chain also must have the same business acumen. Transportation, storage and warehousing, basic ingredient processing, food manufacturing and delivery, retailing – all demand superior management skills. All the way from corporate headquarters, to processing, to the farm itself. Here are a few to think about:

The Naturalist

Admit it. Some of us simply want to avoid being cooped up in a small cubicle, cramped office – or even indoors, if we can avoid. Being out and in touch with the natural world is what we love. It’s a defining characteristic of most farmers and ranchers. But it’s not limited to them.

Consider the role of an agronomist in dealing with producers regularly. Or as an environmental technician or expert. Or a naturalist who cares deeply about sustainability. The list of potential jobs and careers grows even longer when you consider your other interests, such as gardening, animals and photography.

The Mechanic and Operator

Many of us prefer the real and immediate to the theoretical and abstract. We love the satisfaction that comes from using our heads and our hands to make things work the way they should. We thrive on the results our efforts help produce.

Our food system desperately needs that mindset and skill set. Labor remains one of our food system’s greatest challenges – simply having enough people to do the daily chores demanded of farming or ranching, of maintaining valuable equipment and systems, and being on hand to solve problems and deal with potential emergencies. Or equipment supplier, or any of the dozens of suppliers who interact daily with producers.

The need for reliable, competent mechanics and operators is real – and so are the job and career openings in this critical area.

The Numbers Person

Some people see the magic of numbers all around them. Whether used in as an analytical tool, or in an essential accounting and bookkeeping system, or in scientific research, mathematical and related skills are essential to every segment of the food chain.

A fascination with numbers doesn’t have to be channeled solely into rocket science, or any other single discipline. Our food and agriculture system needs that passion, too, across all sectors and in all business lines., including:

The Cyber Star

Ask anyone across the food chain what their most important tools are, and you may be surprised to find “good data and solid analysis” near the top of the list. We live in an age that demands smart decisions in every aspect of our lives. The food and agriculture sector is no different.

Collecting and organizing data is the first challenge. Turning data into knowledge and insight is just as important. Every segment of the food chain must do both, and people with the computer and cyber skills to put the two halves together have enormous career opportunities in agriculture.

Careers in this space offer more than some of the highest salaries available in the marketplace. Many of those working in this area also point to something beyond compensation. They point to the personal satisfaction that comes from knowing they are doing something important to the world around them. They aren’t helping sell more eye make-up or the latest equivalent of the old hula hoop. They are helping to feed a hungry world.

At the Front Lines

These are only a few examples of the exceptional range of job and career opportunities in our modern food system. To see an even more robust survey of food-related jobs and careers, start with a look at just one source of detailed career help for anyone interested in making our food system their preferred career track, like LoveToKnow’s ag careers page and the USDA’s presentation, too.

In recognition of the job and career opportunities available across agriculture, the Future Farmers of America have created AgExplorer – a career resource dedicated to helping young people identify the employment possibilities and prepare for careers not just in farming and but across the entire food and agriculture sector.

AgExplorer details more than 200 career focus areas, with careful attention to the marriage of computer science and technology to the world of food and agriculture. AgExploer helps students learn about the career opportunities as provides practical, real-world assistance in planning and preparing to find and secure the job and career they will love. That job and career may be in production agriculture, computer systems, environmental science, food manufacturing and sales, biotechnology services – the list goes on and on and on.

Show Me the Money

The range of salaries paid across the food and agricultural sector is predictably broad.

But specific jobs can come with much more attractive compensation levels.

Job sites like and report on some of the highest paying jobs in agriculture in 2023 – including estimates of salaries for farm managers and food scientists in the $61,000-72,000 range, and veterinarians and ag economists making well into six figures annually.

Anybody Want a Job in Ag?

On the run? LISTEN to our post!

A Perfect Storm of Labor Issues?

Labor issues have become one of the most significant challenges facing our efforts to move past the trauma to our food system caused by Covid. What’s just as bad, they complicate our efforts to combat the extraordinary inflationary pressures facing food consumers everywhere.

Labor issues are a complex mix of events and circumstances coming together in a perfect storm of real – and potentially expanding – challenges to our entire food system. In response, labor advocates and supportive politicians advance policies to attract and entice reluctant workers, with scant attention to the resulting higher labor costs, or the inflationary pressures they create for food consumers. The storm is becoming increasingly visible across the country.

California Governor Gavin Newsom recently generated headlines by changing his stance and initial policies by signing a controversial bill to expand the ability of farm unions to organize. Supporters of the measure say it will help workers build the strong unions needed to obtain the wages and work conditions they want and deserve. Detractors point to the potential for additional labor costs and the continuation of food price inflation – and workers to face pressure from union organizers to join – and risk retaliation of some form because their ballots will no longer be secret.

More than a Political Dispute

California’s 69,000 farms and ranches support about 1.2 million jobs, growing grapes, almonds, dairy products, lettuce, berries, oranges, rice, and other crops. The health of the agricultural sector is vital to the state’s economy – and our nation’s food supply.

In New York, officials have approved a change in regulations that reduce the threshold for overtime from 60 hours to 40 hours for farm workers, phased in over a 10-year period. Progressive organizations champion the move. But farmers say the change may work against worker interests. They note the price pressures that limit their margins and inability to pass higher costs on to a reluctant buyer. New York taxpayers noted that the bill contains a reimbursement clause that will shift at least some of the costs to the state taxpayer.

The Golden State also is pondering an increase in the California minimum wage, from $15.00 an hour to $22.50. Minimum hourly wages vary from state to state, generally between $7.25 to $15.00. But whatever the mandated minimum, higher wages mean higher costs to somebody – and most often, the consumer winds up at the end of the chain. Your Big Mac just got more expensive.

The fundamental argument seems to come down to a simple question…

Who pays?

Will consumers accept higher food costs that may be generated in addressing these complex labor issues? Will taxpayers support the use of tax monies to fund mandated labor conditions? Or have consumers built up a resistance to further price rises? As one California grower pointed out to the media, when the labor cost exceeds what I can get from the market for my crop, I have no choice but to leave it in the field.

Who are ‘Agricultural Workers?’

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) describes farm workers as those who maintain crops and tend livestock, performing physical labor and operating machinery under the supervision of farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers.

BLS estimates the total number of agricultural workers across the country at 876,900 in 2021, roughly 90 percent categorized as crop and animal workers. The remainder is essentially equipment operators, breeding specialists, and various technical experts.

BLS also records another 210,000 workers in the various industries supporting farmers, including truckers, equipment maintenance and repair specialists, supply delivery personnel, and related farm service organizations.

It’s All About People, Not Just Numbers

The cold labor data fails to capture a critical element of the current labor issue. People, not tables and charts and technological innovations, make the modern agricultural system function. Someone has to turn on the switch, after all. And maybe more relevant to the current situation, someone must do the hard, hard physical labor that farming and ranching still entails.

Source for image:

Much of the agricultural world still depends upon people willing to pick and harvest crops, especially the fruit and vegetables essential to a healthy diet. Farmers need help operating the complex equipment that goes into planting, protecting, and nurturing crops, herds, and flocks. They sometimes need special knowledge and skills to operate dairy farms, maintain healthy birds and cattle, or manage complex regenerative cropping systems.

Above all, they need help that is not just available but reliably available. The Covid era ushered in a new attitude among many workforce segments – a simple unwillingness to commit to doing much of the essential farm work that makes the whole system sustainable. Farmers and ranchers increasingly complain not just of the difficulty of recruiting help, but in finding help actually willing to show up, day after day.

Labor interests ask for more – but not just more money, but more control over workplace conditions, family support, job flexibility, time off, and other deeply personal considerations. The recent threat of a major railroad strike brought this new reality home when workers made work-life balance a significant issue in negotiations, far more than the agreed-upon 24% wage increase.

The importance of farm labor has been magnified by another simple change – a smaller and aging cadre of on-farm work.

The average age of a U.S. farmer today is 57.5 years, up more than a full year in the past decade. (Other estimates place the average age of principal farm operators at 59.4.) The large majority of U.S. farms may still be family owned. But fewer of those family members seem interested in staying on the farm and even less inclined to take on sole responsibility for the steady and unrelenting hard labor that farming still demands.

Doesn’t Immigrant Labor Offset This?

Immigrant labor – legal and illegal — has been the primary source of relief for the labor pains felt on the farm and ranch. AgAmerica’s analysis of the labor situation estimated that as much as 73 percent of the U.S. agricultural labor force comprises immigrants, compared with just 13 percent of immigrants in the overall U.S. population.

Covid ushered in a sharp change in international travel, and the normal flow of immigration was not immune to its chilling effects.

Students of the labor issue also note that rising education levels and expanding employment options are diminishing the willingness of immigrants to take on often back-breaking fieldwork.

Government agencies also are anxiously awaiting November’s fiscal-year-end labor report from BLS, both to assess trends in agricultural employment and to examine what, if any, effect the recent wave of immigration at the southern U.S. border may be having on the situation. Border authorities report more than 2 million encounters with people trying to enter the country in the first 11 months of fiscal 2022.

Immigration reform advocates contend that in addition to the 1.3 million immigrants released into the United States, up to another 1 million may have slipped past border authorities. While the exact figures are subject to debate, the influx is significant enough to prompt animated discussion on the need for immigration reform to bring greater order to the integration of a potentially sizeable addition to the agricultural labor force.

Dirt to Dinner will monitor the BLS report due in late November and continue to report on significant insights it may contain.

Is the Produce Industry in a Pickle?

The problem affects almost all segments of modern agriculture. But none seems to face a larger immediate challenge than the world of produce. Physical labor remains absolutely essential to economic survival for fruit and vegetable producers. As recently as 2012, the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) estimated that as much as 20 percent of U.S. produce never left the field due to labor shortages. A 2019 study by Santa Clara University pegged the waste figure at a whopping 33.7 percent, with labor shortages cited as a major factor.

The problem is critical in the western United States, where the produce industry is a massive element of state and national economies. Growers warn that shortages in field labor might mean spot shortages or disruptions to the normal flow of goods to market. In other words, lingering labor issues could contribute to a repeat of some of the supply disruptions seen during the Covid pandemic. Dealing with such labor-driven disruptions is the driving force behind creating the H-2A ‘guest worker” program.

The U.S. Labor Department’s H-2A program began in 1986 to allow producers to bring in temporary workers when domestic workers are unavailable. The program has been a big help to producers – with the total number of these agricultural visas quadrupling since 2007.

NRDC also notes that up to half of all farm workers are undocumented immigrants. State Department data cited by USA Facts notes that while requests for visas into the United States for tourism, schooling, and work declined sharply during Covid, agricultural visa requests actually rose.

As impressive as those numbers may be, farmers and ranchers quickly say the labor problem continues to be a big challenge. The H-2A program comes in for particular criticism for its complex filing processes, long time frames, and general bureaucratic hassles – all anathema to harried farm operators. Few, if any, observers expect progress on the underlying problem of immigration reform at the federal level. Likewise, farm managers and others across the food chain question how the changing attitudes toward work that have emerged in a Covid and post-Covid world will play out among the overall U.S. workforce.

So What are We Doing about the Problem?

In the interim, efforts to deal with the labor issue have taken several directions.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports media pay for farm labor at $14.27 per hour in 2021, or just under $30,000 per year. Equipment operators, breeders, and other specialized skill positions pay a bit more, averaging $36,000-40,000. Analysis by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service shows an 8 percent increase in overall farm labor wages. It’s simple economics: more money stimulates supply, and labor is no different.

  • Further reform of the H-2A program

Legislation to streamline the process and reduce at least some of the most frustrating aspects of its administration are pending in Congress, with broad bipartisan support. But the political thicket remains in full force, with lingering differences of opinion still to be resolved.

  • Accelerated adoption of technology where economically feasible

Innovation in farm-related automation and robotics offers help if not an outright solution. Artificial intelligence, drone technology, and other emerging tools for the farmer and rancher no longer seem so far away or economically out of reach. But ag economists also caution that such investments will be made only if they show a return.

Farmers must feel confident that the additional spending will help the bottom line, not hurt it. Many also point to the risks of becoming too dependent on technology, as called to mind by the recent global shortage of computer chips and growing cyber-security threats from an aggressive international hacker community.

  • Changed farming focus

Perhaps in exasperation or necessity, some farmers report moving away from labor-intensive crops and farming. A few cite the frustrations of modern agriculture – especially on the labor front – as a growing reason to retire early or cease farming altogether. Credible data on the extent of this change remains elusive. But the subject comes up too frequently to be ignored.

Trump vs. Biden: Comparing Ag Platforms

Everyone agrees it will be an important event for all Americans – a momentary pause, if not an end, to the endless argument about the future direction of the country. On November 3rd, we will select our President, our entire House of Representatives, and a third of our Senate.

When it comes to food and agriculture, what makes one presidential candidate different from the other? The significant farm issues are the economy, international trade relationships, China as a strong component but other countries as well; the Renewable Fuel Standard; rural broadband access; the regulatory environment, and COVID. What will be the key goals and objectives they set? What big ideas will drive their actions over the next four years? What is likely to change and what will stay the same?

Don’t expect any great epiphanies from reading party platforms. Such documents are great at grand philosophical statements, but light on the specifics that might risk offending some potential voter. But there are insights in there anyway, especially when combined with the public statements and media coverage that have emerged in this campaign.

Candidates’ Philosophies

We took a look at comparing the policies that would most affect food and agriculture from each of the candidates. We focused on trade, the economy, climate change, and immigration.


America is in trouble, due largely to the missteps of the current administration. America must return to many of the approaches of the previous Democratic administrations, including:

  • a stronger focus on building consensus, stepping up government support and engagement in things that build a fairer society

  • governmental programs to protect individual rights, reduce anti-competitive practices among agricultural businesses, reform our criminal justice system, and expand access to health care, broadband, and other social services

  • more aggressive governmental regulations to climate change, and in the process spur a broad effort to generate new jobs, protect our environment and revive the economy with innovative environmental products and technologies

  • revive a spirit of international cooperation to boost trade


America is on the right track, so let’s stick with what we have started:


  • take the tough steps needed to compete in a global marketplace, while shielding U.S. citizens, with subsidies, from the immediate adverse effects of such actions

  • keep current policies and programs and continue to reduce the governmental barriers that hold back enterprise and initiative

  • support worthwhile government programs but still rely on private enterprise and voluntary effort as the primary engines of progress in protecting the environment and managing financial risk

  • stand up for American interests first in the international arena, especially on matters of trade

Both platforms share some commonalities around the ideas of conservation. Their differing philosophies are on the role of the government as it pertains to conservation, trade, taxes, regulations, and immigration.

Plans for Trade


  • seek international consensus: multilateral and bilateral before negotiating trade agreements

  • restore more traditional negotiating style and posturing with trade partners

  • revitalize focus on boosting ag exports; concerned about Brazil and Argentina taking place of U.S.

  • expand focus on workers’ rights and interests in trade negotiations


  • take the tough steps needed to compete in a global marketplace, while shielding U.S. citizens, with subsidies, from the immediate adverse effects of such actions

  • maintain efforts to implement improved trade deals with China, Canada, Mexico, Japan, Britain, and E.U.

  • enforce tougher negotiating philosophy with focus on exports and long-term opportunities

  • continue direct aid to farmers while negotiating trade deals, currently at $32 billion

 Trump favors the aggressive use of higher tariffs as a tool for negotiating better trade deals. Biden prefers a more traditional approach of focusing on progressive tariff reductions.

Addressing Farm & Rural Economies


  • raise taxes: income, capital gains, corporate tax rate; end stepped-up basis

  • provide more financial support for rural economy via initiatives and infrastructure modernization, including direct farm support, rural health care, broadband

  • support local trade between farmers and schools and hospitals

  • preserve and protect smaller operators from unfair, anti-competitive forces with a higher focus on FTC antitrust regulations such as the Clayton Act, Dodd-Frank, etc., trickling down to farm economy

  • enhance labor rights and protections; support union workers

  • provide more financial support for younger, beginning farmers/ranchers, and smaller farms

  • support Farm Bill and SNAP


  • continue 2017’s tax plan that enables farmers to pass their farms to their next-generation farmers

  • preserve lower-tax environment

  • continue efforts to identify and remove regulatory and other barriers to support private initiative and innovation

  • support broadband throughout rural America

  • continue financial relief through direct payments to affected producers, as needed

  • maintain financial discipline in existing government programs

  • support Farm Bill and SNAP, but close loopholes that allow ‘able-bodied working-age adults’ collecting food stamps to move into a work environment to create a sense of fiscal independence

Trump offers a strategy to continue the ‘America First’ initiative, providing increased business opportunities by limiting regulatory barriers, while providing relief to those in need. Biden proposes tax increases to overhaul current systems in rural America, such as broadband access and healthcare. He also plans to strengthen antitrust enforcement.

Climate Change & Sustainability Affecting Ag


  • Green New Deal is ‘a crucial framework’ for climate challenges

  • make American ag first in the world to achieve net-zero carbon emissions

  • increase research funding focused on zero-carbon and productivity-increase goals

  • support renewable fuels and ethanol mandates

  • expand financial incentives for programs that reduce greenhouse gases – conservation reserves, reduced tillage, ‘blue sink’ programs, regenerative ag

  • expand USDA’s Conservation Stewardship Program

  • promote development of new, innovative products and technologies related to environmental protection, reduced carbon footprint


  • against Green New Deal due to added costs and reduced income for farmers and added regulations

  • maintain existing conservation programs, including Conservation Stewardship Program, based on voluntary participation

  • encourage regenerative ag, soil and farm technology, and clean water

  • continue to support Renewable Fuel Standard program, including ethanol

Both parties maintain conservation efforts as a priority and state that ’sound science’ is highly important in addressing food and ag issues, but neither is anxious to define exactly what ’sound science’ is, other than a broad philosophic concept.

While Biden looks to increase funding on its zero-carbon emission goal, Trump focuses its funding on renewable energy sources and fuel alternatives.



  • take immediate action to undo policies regarding wall construction on U.S. and Mexico border

  • reassert a commitment to asylum-seekers and refugees and investigate the root cause of irregular immigration

  • reexamine relationships in Central American nations as part of plan to deter violence causing influx of refugees

  • create doorway for seasonal farm labor and migrant workers

  • address path to citizenship for undocumented workers


  • continue funding for construction of a wall to differentiate nation’s border with Mexico

  • close legal loopholes that enable illegal immigration

  • end chain migration and eliminate visa lottery program

  • continue work on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and move to a more merit-based immigration plan

Biden would work to reverse the Trump administration’s U.S.-Mexico wall construction and instead focus on refugees and irregular migration from the southern border. Trump would maintain a strong process for legalizing immigrants, including the continuation of his work on DACA. In a continued effort to deter illegal immigration, construction would resume on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Summing it all up…

Biden & Harris’ platform proposes a larger and more aggressive role for the federal government in guiding the system through wide-ranging policies and programs that overlap with wider social, environmental, and other policy objectives.

Trump & Pence maintain a more traditional role for the government in creating an environment that rewards individual initiative and competitiveness in pursuing many of the same ultimate goals — economic growth, environmental protection and sustainability, adaptation to changing societal needs, and expectations of our modern food system.

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Demanding Equality: Women Farmers in Africa

Editor’s Note: These days, it feels like a challenge to find stories of unity and empowerment. So we feel very honored and proud to present our readers with these uplifting stories of three African women farmers who not only challenge the status quo, but have dramatically improved the well-being of their families, their countries…and beyond.

In sub-Saharan Africa, smallholder farmers make up 80% of all farms, with women comprising at least half of the work force. However, a pervasive gender imbalance exists here, with men dominating the industry and given opportunities and resources their female counterparts can only dream of. Motivated by the stories of their mothers and their own experiences in rural Africa, these three inspiring women, Ruramiso Mashumba, Slyvia Tetteh, and Sussana Phiri, have created a better life for themselves, their families, and all women farmers through their educational and empowerment efforts.

From Ghana to Zimbabwe to Zambia, here are the stories of our farmers.

These are the stories of Ruramiso Mashumba, Slyvia Tetteh, and Sussana Phiri, exemplary women who have changed the face of farming in Africa. Together, they unify their voices through their Facebook page, Women Who Farm Africa, which shares resources, experiences, and information to empower women around the world. They take pride in Africa’s culture of leaving no one behind by educating women on preventing food insecurity and encouraging their role in strengthening the local and global economies.

These women believe that “closing the access gap between men and women farmers would increase agricultural productivity by 2.5 – 4% in developing countries – thus reducing hungry people by 150 million. The result is a thriving community, country, and world.

Ruramiso Mashumba, CEO & Founder, Mnandi Africa

I was born in the capital city of Zimbabwe, Harare. My mother worked in the rural areas. I remember when we were younger, she used to sit us down and tell us about the women she worked with in agriculture. Many of times they couldn’t afford to send their children to school if there was a drought in the country. The women worked tirelessly day in and day out to earn just a few dollars.

From that age, I made up my mind that I, too, want to work in supporting women in rural communities.

When I was 14 years old, my dad bought a farm and I was moved to a school next to the farm that had a focus on agriculture. This is where I learned about commercial agriculture and the power it had to transform the rural economy by transforming lives of farmers. I decided to further my studies at school and receive a diploma. My experience wasn’t easy. The school was not ready for women. They didn’t have a uniform for us. I had to wear khaki shorts, shirt and long knee-length socks as there was no uniform for girls.

For two years, I studied agriculture at my school. Throughout the entire time, I was bullied. They called me a boy because of my uniform. I remember the boys would pull my chair and laugh at me every day.

Despite how difficult it was, I was determined to make sure I didn’t give up. I felt I must persevere because I was an example for little girls in my school who were younger than me. I wanted to show them you can achieve anything, even when the odds are against you, if you put your mind to it. So I made sure I studied hard.

After two years, I graduated third in my class out of fifty students. I’m happy to report the two people above me were also girls.

We stuck together and yes, we did persevere.

I then went on to further my education in the UK. I remember my first day on a British farm. These farmers were so cool! They had tractors, combine harvesters – worlds apart from the women my mother described in her story who farmed with manual tools and torn clothes.

After I graduated, I decided to return to Zimbabwe. My goal was to change the face of my country’s agriculture. I was encouraged and motivated. I wrote a business plan.

I remember the day I finally got an appointment to see my bank manager. He was dressed smartly in a pin striped suit and looked very important.

I sat down anxiously and presented my proposal. After what felt like a lifetime, he inhaled and said, “Young lady how old are you?” I replied 25 years old. He said, “Hmm…do you have collateral?” I replied, “No, just my University degree.”

He replied, “Soon you will be married and what will that mean for our money? Hmmm, unfortunately, we are unable to assist you.” I went home in tears.

I sat down with my parents crying. My mother got up, got a box, and took out her savings she had put aside to buy a car and said, “My girl, you can do anything as long as you put your mind to it. Now, go and conquer the world.”

That year, I planted 1 hectare of cabbages, oilseed vegetables, and king onions. I used the knowledge I had learned at university that farming is a business and within one month, I was already selling, and my product was very successful.

The reason for my success was because of the education I gained not only in practical farming, but also business management, which included modules like how to secure markets.

As a result of my high-quality products, the next year I got my first big break. My company was contracted by a local producer to grow snap peas for them to export into the EU and became their first woman grower, as well as their first grower younger than 30 years old.

The company had seen proof from the quality of my current crop that I was competent to produce high-quality product for them to export.

I have since shared my story and inspired other young ladies in rural areas, as well as in the urban areas. I tell them that agriculture is male-dominated, but women farmers can and should stand shoulder to shoulder with men.

Together, we can do more. Together, we can change the image of the continent and we can feed the world.

Today, I am the first woman chairperson of the Zimbabwe Farmers Union youth. I have represented women in ag across the world by sharing not only my story, but also the stories of the many women food producers who need access to education in agriculture, technology, and finance.

A lot of people see me today winning awards, traveling the world, farming with tractors, working with planter and center pivots, and think I have arrived.

In many ways I have, but honestly, as a farmer I am still faced daily with army worm, increases in pests and diseases, and climate change. I understand personally how hard things are and have the education to know that there are solutions. That’s why as a farmer, I have become an advocate for women in science.

Together, men and women can feed our growing population. Science is not moving fast enough for us as farmers. We need seeds that can adapt to today’s challenges and my involvement with Cornell’s Alliance For Science is motivated by my strong belief that science needs to hurry up.

The technology is there. I conclude by this popular African saying, “alone you can go faster, but together we can go far”.

Let’s come together — farmers both men and women, scientists and innovators — to help feed the world and leave no man behind.

Slyvia Tetteh, Administrator, Chamber of Agribusiness, Ghana

My name is Slyvia Tetteh. I’m from the United States of Africa; specifically, Ghana.

Famous Ghanaian educator Dr. James Kwegyir Aggrey famously once said: “If you educate a man, you educate an individual. But if you educate a woman, you educate an entire nation”. I believe this to be true. I want to share with you why I’m dedicating my life to empowering the women farmers of Africa.

My passion for empowering women began with my mother, Lawrencia Larbi. Despite so many obstacles, my mother had a dream of completing her education. Unlike here in America where families live on farms, in Africa our farms are usually located far away from our homes, and you must travel by foot because the paths are too narrow for vehicles. My mother would wake up every day at 4am. She would do this to help her parents feed the family and to raise money for her education. After putting on her school uniform, she would walk one hour to work on our family farm.

After working for several hours, she would then walk upwards of two hours with her mother to the market. There, they would sell our farm produce, and sometimes banana leaves. My mother did this every day. Only then did she depart for school. Unfortunately, some days it took hours before she and grandma could sell any of our farm produce. Often, by the time they made enough money, morning classes had already ended. Sometimes they did not sell anything until midday. By then, it was already too late for my mother to go to school. My mother was pressed between a rock and a hard place.

She was the youngest in her family. Her brother and sisters had found this schedule impossible to maintain. She had worked so hard to try to finish school, but eventually reality hit her. It was literally and physically impossible to follow the daily routine and achieve academic success. With no other options, she had to marry early and start a family, just like generations of women before her.

While she was being educated, my mother dreamed of becoming a lawyer and eventually a Legislator who served her nation. But with no support financially, and unable to achieve an education, my mother had to give up her dream.

My mother was seventeen when she got married.

No one should give up their dream at seventeen years old. My mother was determined to give me and my sisters the opportunities she didn’t have. And she did. She didn’t always have the money to keep us in school. But despite the fact that she didn’t finish school, she remembered everything she had learned. When we couldn’t afford school, she used her knowledge to homeschool us. I believe my mother was an exceptional woman, but in terms of what she did with the education she had, she was not atypical.

In my country, if you educate a father, he is expected to take his education out of the home and into the workplace to earn money for his family. A woman’s role is to stay home with her children. When mothers are educated, they keep their education in the home and use it to educate their children. If you educate a woman, you educate her children, and by extension, her community. A nation of educated women is an educated nation.

Out of 80% of women farmers with children in the 1990s, I’m one of the lucky ones to obtain a higher education. I earned my Bachelor’s Degree in Economics and Information Studies. My mother’s hard work gave me the opportunity to stand on this platform before you here today. This is why I work so hard to help other women. My mother’s unwavering dedication to educate me drives my passion.

Today, I educate womenI work with women farmers so that they can farm successfully and more easily using modern agricultural biotechnology. I do this because I believe if you educate a man you educate an individual; but if you educate a woman, you educate an entire nation. Our male counterparts also have challenges, yet the current system advances men. Men hand their farms down to their sons from generation to generation.

Therefore, only less than 20% of agricultural land in the world is owned by women farmers. Because men own their land, they have the collateral to secure loans to buy machinery, which allows them to scale their farming.

Meanwhile, so many women are still farming with manual tools.

Research has shown that women farmers produce 70% of food found on the continent, and yet 5 million people die of hunger every year. 5. Million. People. To be able to feed the continent with the expected population increase of 1 billion, things must change. Women must have the tools they need to farm more efficiently, maximizing output on every inch of farmland. Strong policies must be put in place.

The only way to bridge this vast gap of inequity is to educate women. Women Farmers Must. Be. Empowered. Equally. In order to increase yields and achieve sustainable growth, women must be educated about agricultural biotechnology and have access to other available breakthrough technology. Only then will women become productive, independent, and financially stable. Families with educated women are empowered to provide for themselves. Unlike my mother, these families can realize their dreams. There is no reason we can not empower the women of Africa to empower themselves. We. Can.

And when this day comes, we will be able to say the following: We have educated women. We have educated an entire nation. And the world IS a better place.

Sussana Phiri, Farmer & Advocate of Zambian Agriculture

I am Sussana Phiri and I am from Zambia. Chilanga is my hometown. Zambia has abundant arable land, many water bodies, and hardworking women. Zambia is home to a vibrant mix of cultures and is also widely considered to be one of the friendliest and most welcoming nations in the world.

In America, you’re either a farmer, or you’re not. It’s not that simple where I come from. In my country, we are all farmers. When I was little, my father made small farming tools for me and my siblings. They were cute. We weren’t doing much, but it was our introduction to farming being a part of the fabric of our lives. We farmed during the rainy season so we had enough maize to feed our big family through the next year.

My mother always used to say “pang’ono pang’ono ndi mtolo,” translated it means: ​bit by bit causes a heap.

Although we didn’t have endless supplies of food, we all worked together, bit by bit, to ensure we never went hungry. I am so thankful. ​No child should ​ever​ go hungry. Like many people in my country, there were early mornings, long days, and late nights. All day, every day, every year. By the time I was 22 years old, I was studying remotely to earn my degree in education, while farming my family’s land and also teaching pre-school.

Seeing children I worked with suffer because they did not have enough to eat was painful. Despite being hungry, these children worked hard and went to school every day. Theirs is a difficult yet inspiring story, but that is not the story I want to share with you.

I want to share a practice in my country which hurts me, but inspired me to make change.

I want to tell you about a practice called mashanga – a practice which taught me to question what is not right and think outside of the box for solutions. After the rainy season, we wait for the maize to dry. Once it dries, my family harvests it. Mashanga is what happens next, but it shouldn’t happen at all. ​After Harvest season, women with little babies on their backs would ask for permission to go on our land. We would grant it and they would walk through the field, looking for ​any grain we had accidentally left behind. ​They would walk our field for hours, hoping to find any scraps we left behind, and then they would go to other fields after that.

Mashanga is considered normal in my community. Mothers with little babies on their backs, looking for scraps.

This practice made me realize many things. First, in order to live in a better world you must question the world you’re in. Second, just because things have always been done one way, it does not mean they are right, fair or just. And finally, there can be better ways to do things than the way we have always done things. We must question what we think is normal to create change. And if we are to feed every hungry child, we must question what that looks like.

In Zambia, women farmers comprise over 70% of the farming labour, yet they do not have access to information on how to farm better beyond just thinking farming is a way of life.

We also do not have access to technology that would reduce labor while providing greater yields. Women’s work is not valued as it should be given the majority of labor we provide.

We can question this. It should not be normal. No. Things must change. ​Women farmers in Africa are feeding the African continent even under unfavorable conditions. But it is not enough. 1 in 4 children go undernourished everyday. Now imagine the year 2050, when Africa’s population is projected to have 2.4 billion people. ​We cannot move forward accepting things as they have always been. ​This is not sustainable.

pang’ono pang’ono ndi mtolo… bit by bit causes a heap.

I am a twenty-five year old who is working for that heap of change.

Change does not have to happen overnight, but it can and we must work bit by bit to cause a heap.

Today, I am a co-founder of the Women Who Farm Africa campaign. Women Who Farm believes that if we empower women farmers in agribusiness, agricultural technologies, and communication, we can​ feed the world in 2050.

Whether you are a business expert, scientist, communications expert, farmer, or policy maker, you can contribute a bit to create ​a heap of food for all of us. ​

Bit by bit, we can create change together. ​It’s time ​for a new normal, one that empowers women.

It’s time for a heap of change, a heap of change that feeds the world.


A Farmer’s Life on the U.S.-Mexico Border

Every morning, Brandy Johnson cooks breakfast for her 6 and 3-year-olds and her husband, Russell. After kissing each other good-bye for the day, Brandy takes their children to school and Russell checks on hundreds of cattle on their family’s ranch. Before leaving the house, they each tuck a holstered 9mm pistol in their waistband.

While some Americans carry a pistol for basic protection, very few must consider defending themselves when they wake up in the morning. The Johnsons are not protecting themselves from grizzly bears, but rather the sometimes-dangerous situations that arise from those trying to cross the border right onto their backyard.

Immigrant Workers as an Essential Part of the U.S. Workforce

Many people from around the world have flocked to this country to build new and better lives for their families and future generations. They provide the labor behind countless essential job functions. Many immigrants harvest our crops and process our meat. Some maintain our households and tend to our homes and gardens. They ceaselessly study to pursue the knowledge and training that opens doors to more opportunities, better lives, and better futures. Some bring special knowledge and skills, already present yet unable to be used as productively as they should.

In total, immigrants of diverse backgrounds, capabilities, needs, and dreams provide an essential source of the energy and commitment that pushes our nation and our world forward. It is an approach to nation-building that has worked well for years. It remains a cornerstone of the traditional view of the American dream.

Many U.S. industries are reliant on this workforce. As of the most recent U.S. Department of Labor’s National Agricultural Workers’ survey report, almost half of farm laborers are unauthorized immigrants. And this isn’t just in the interest of labor costs…many farmers and ranchers have difficulty hiring local workers, as they just aren’t interested. As for the value of the immigrant workforce, a dairy industry study found that if the foreign-born workforce is reduced by 50%, 3,500 dairy farms would close and dairy product prices would increase by 30%. And this study was conducted before COVID-19…who knows what that figure would look like now?

But that vision of immigration as a good and positive thing is under assault. Desperate people taking desperate actions have made the question of immigration increasingly polarized. It is an unpleasant fact that Mexico and Central American countries like Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, are rife with poverty, drug cartels, and crime, forcing many citizens to leave their homes. Compassion toward those who come over to escape for a better a life is necessary – intolerance for criminals is mandatory.

Illegal immigration today produces a political and social firestorm – a polarization of opinion that can be traced to the dangerous difficulties that face people across our nation – and none more so than those at the front line of the immigration question, like those along the U.S.-Mexico border.

And how these unauthorized immigrants arrive at their destination can be a very different story…

Welcome to Cattle Ranching on the U.S.-Mexico Border

Russell is a fourth-generation rancher, grazing sometimes more than a thousand head of cattle in the rugged country of southwestern New Mexico.  His big spread abuts the U.S.-Mexico border for eight miles, marked by sparse vegetation and sparser water, protected and defined in long stretches by crude vehicle barriers or a single strand of barbed-wire fencing. The nearest city of any size is 40 miles away.  Everything here is big, and the scale of things immense.

Russell and Brandy work hard to make a go of it in the demanding world of cattle production. It’s hard work keeping tabs on the cattle 24/7, protecting them from predators, and doing it all in a way that preserves the delicate balance that protects the natural resources they and their predecessors have relied upon for more than a century. It’s a rugged life made even more so by dealing with desperate immigrants passing through.

Russell patiently paints a scary picture of how illegal immigration has changed not just the way he manages his cattle operations, but maybe more concerning, how it has changed the way he and his family go about living their day-to-day lives.

He says the core of the problem is where his ranch lies. For miles and miles of that border, on either side of his ranch, there is no substantive barrier – other than that strand of barbed wire – standing guard against those intent upon entering the U.S. There is nothing to stop individuals from coming across their land. Increasingly, these newcomers come in waves of all-terrain vehicles, rampaging across the countryside in a headlong dash for that elusive better life somewhere north of the so-called border.

“It can be individuals, or groups being taken in by somebody with a van or a panel truck,” Russell explains.  “Sometimes they may be drug runners, or smugglers bringing cheap labor into the country for whoever wants them, or just people grasping for something better, no matter the cost or the danger for them or others.”

There’s no one way to define who is coming over. And that may be the point. “There’s just more and more of them all the time,” Russell observes.

“I have no problem with people seeking a better life,” he says in the laconic western drawl. “We all want better lives for our families. I get that. But what I don’t like is what I see happening to my life because we won’t face up to the big issue – which is building a workable immigration system. I’m tired of waiting. And frustrated.”

When a western cattle rancher says he is frustrated, it’s time to pay attention.

A Dangerous Way of Life

The increasing number of undocumented immigrants entering Russell’s ranch carries with it a lot of collateral damage.

“Well, it starts with my fences being taken down,” he says. “I get a call at 2am from Border Patrol telling me somebody has run down my fence. I have to get up and fix the fence all over again. And again, and again.”

But what animates Russell is something far more frightening than the repair expense, or the inconvenience, or more hard work. As a rancher, he’s used to that.

“It bothers me when I find one of my line sheds has been broken into for shelter,” he says. “Or even burned down to keep warm.”

Or consider the situation faced by Russell’s father and uncle during one of the worst cycles of immigrant flow into his farm. “My father and uncle’s pickup was stolen at gunpoint while they were checking on the chili pepper harvest. There were young men blending into the chili picking crew, but apparently, they were actually guarding a marijuana field in Mexico that had been raided. They needed a pickup to escape, but got it stuck in the mud just before they could cross into Mexico. The young men left the truck…some fled to a village just across the border and engaged in a gunfight with Mexican law enforcement, while a few others ran back into the U.S.”

“I’m not happy about it,” Russell adds. “But there are places on my property that I won’t let my children go – at least not without me or Brandy being with them, and without at least one of us being armed. The local police can’t be of much help. They just can’t cover all this ground.”

Asking if these kinds of episodes are a frequent problem or an occasional annoyance, Russell responds, “it goes in waves. We’ll go a while with only an occasional sighting, or even nothing happening. We’ll have a single drive-through, then have three or four for about a month.  Then they’ll move on to a new spot, the point of least resistance. They’ll move to where the Border Patrol isn’t…to where they aren’t focusing their limited resources.”

Trying to get state and other federal authorities to take action hasn’t produced much to help alleviate the problem.

“We contact all the right people, and sometimes they will send somebody out from the Border office to walk around and look at things,” Russell says, choosing his words carefully. “They don’t see anything or anybody of interest at that moment. So they sorta shrug it off and go back.”

What they don’t seem to appreciate, he adds, is that the problem is like water seeking the lowest level. “There are hundreds of miles of border” in this region, he says, including lots with nothing more than the wire fences. “When the flow of illegal immigrants builds up in one spot, Border Patrol might send out what resources they have available to help. But the runners always seem to sense when that is happening, and they just shift to another weak point and make that their way in. Then the whole process repeats itself somewhere else.”

It’s not that Border Patrol doesn’t want to try to help us, he adds. “It’s just that they don’t have enough people or resources of technology to cover it all.”  Russell knows; he used to be a Border Patrol agent, covering 67 miles of territory.

What Can be Done for Farmers at the Border?

“We need to secure our border with a barrier, put Border Patrol agents in place with the proper technology, and have immigration reform for those who want to be good productive citizens of our country.” 

Russell adds, “Long-term is the real reform of immigration policy. Let’s find a way to let people in the right way so it works for them – and not the criminals.”

As it turns out, things are moving in Russell’s favor. As we prepared this post, significant progress has been made on their 3-mile stretch of unprotected border. Russell was eager to report that things have changed drastically on his ranch and, “for a change, it’s better”.  Wall construction has started on his family’s ranch and, furthermore, Russell received a status report that a contract has been in place to fortify the 3-mile stretch of barbed wire they feared was going to be left as a gap. This gives his family much relief in knowing that their property will no longer be a funneling point.

Communication here is key, as Russell had to elevate his needs to the Administration for this additional coverage. Though it’s not an answer to a much larger, pressing issue, it’s a step in a better direction that protects the Johnsons’ ranch while helping to direct flow through the proper channels.