The Planted Row: Making the best of social distancing

Stan Wise
Farm Forum Editor

It seems that life as we know it is going to be unusual for a while. President Donald Trump has extended federal social distancing guidelines to April 30. Keeping our distance from one another is crucial to keeping our healthcare system from being overwhelmed by too many patients at one time.

However, some jobs will still need to be done. Farmers and ranchers must still plant the crops and help birth the calves. After all, Mother Nature doesn’t care about the pandemic, and we all like to eat.

Ag producers will also still need to stay informed about the latest, most effective farming and ranching practices, as they do every year through workshops and seminars.

Thankfully, the Extension program at South Dakota State University and the programs in surrounding states are doing their best to fulfill their mission of providing information to everyone in the ag and homemaking world despite the fact they must limit their in-person contact.

For instance, our Farm Forum events calendar is now filled with online learning opportunities. If you lack internet access, some of these webinars are set up to let you dial in by phone.

I have to say that I’m pretty impressed with how quickly Extension professionals have put together these online workshops and webinars. It was only two weeks ago that I was receiving cancellation notices for most planned events, and now they’ve shifted gears and figured out how to deliver information to the ag industry in a new way.

For the near future, this type of learning will have to be the new normal. It’s not the same, of course. It’s hard to beat an in-person demonstration or a field tour, but while remote learning lacks hands-on participation, it does have a certain convenience. Learning about row crop management while sitting on your back porch in a pair of shorts and sipping on tea (or perhaps something stronger) has a certain appeal. Or maybe you’ve got time to listen to a short presentation while scarfing down a little lunch during calving season.

Our children are already adjusting to this new reality, and their teachers have also taken on the task of delivering knowledge on a new platform. “School” is now a completely different experience.

My kids spend a significant portion of their day listening to online lectures and completing assignments online. They’re in pajamas. They can have snacks during their work. They can go to the restroom whenever they want. They can open their windows and let in some fresh air. They can listen to music while completing assignments. They can quickly message their teachers online with questions. It takes my kids a lot less time to finish their day’s lessons than they normally spend in school. Their attitudes about the schoolwork, at least, seem to be pretty bright.

Maybe online education doesn’t have to be so bad. If you have access to the Internet or a smartphone, you have some options.

Various outlets are now offering certain college courses for free. And there is no shortage of free instruction videos in just about any art or craft you can think of online. Libraries across the country are making their collections available online.

If we can keep our distance from one another for a while and avoid catching the coronavirus, then maybe the directive to socially isolate in our homes will be a chance to learn a new skill or grow our knowledge.

We have a little more time now. We should take advantage of it.