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Texas A&M University AgriLife Extension saw growth in local programs that went virtual due to the Covid-19 health pandemic in 2020. AgriLife Extension is working on providing a full slate of programming for 2021.

BONHAM — Though Fannin County’s Texas A&M AgriLife Extension was hit hard by Covid-19, the office didn’t disappear. By altering their usual educational programs to include online alternatives, the organization managed to reach more people than it has otherwise been able to help.

Though perhaps best known for 4-H, a youth development program, there are many facets to AgriLife Extension, including agriculture, natural resources, and family and community health. Most AgriLife Extension offices across the state offer similar or expanded programs, according to Fannin County Extension agent Bethany Arie.

“They’re basically research-based education programs, so maybe a little different than what you find other places. Ours are all research-based programs. So, you can count on that information on being what you need,” she said. “We’re working real hard to stay relevant. That’s been a little difficult with Covid. Not really the relevancy — we’ve been able to really jump on board to some online programming and maybe even be some of the frontrunners in providing some of that research and education that’s been going out about Covid.”

Arie also elaborated on both the difficulty and upside of transitioning from face-to-face to online activities.

“We’ve been able to reach a good number of people. I would say in our county, it’s been a comparable number of people. Like I said, we may have even reached a different audience of people, possibly. Maybe some that weren’t able to come to face-to-face programs during the day but could log on from their office or phone. So, that’s been a positive, and we’re just continuing to work to adapt to those programs. So, I think AgriLife as a whole has really been able to do a lot,” Arie said.

Lamar County AgriLife Extension agent Jessica Humphrey talked about the negative economic impact Covid-19 had on local farms and ranches.

“Whenever Covid hit, and they shut all of the processing plants down, there was a mass number of hogs and chickens that had to be slaughtered that were not processed for human consumption because the slaughterhouses were shut down… So, at the very beginning, whenever they shut all those major slaughterhouses down, they didn’t have anywhere for those hogs and chickens to go. So that was a major major hit to hog and chicken producers because they didn’t get paid for their product,” Humphrey said.

The financial impact to all sectors of the agricultural market was tremendous, a cascading snowball effect that hurt poultry, cattle and other crop sales. Once the slaughterhouses re-opened, the oversaturated market caused prices to plummet.

“When they finally could sell them to the feedlot, the prices of beef had dropped dramatically, so they didn’t get as much money for them whenever they did finally sell them. And the beef prices are normally up a little higher right now because of the holidays, you know, people like to eat steak and roast and things like that, and so the price of meat goes up and the price of cattle usually go up, but this year that didn’t happen. They haven’t really recovered a whole lot,” Humphrey said.

AgriLife has committed to helping farmers and ranchers during this economic crisis by continuing the same programs online that they have previously sponsored in person, and by working to provide agricultural communities with guidance during these troubling times.

The Fannin County AgriLife extension has high hopes for 2021.

“We’re definitely planning for continuing with virtual programs, but at this point we’re pretty much all planning two different sets of programming. We’re hoping that we can all get back to face to face programming and resume some of the normal programming at some point, so we’re planning and hoping for that. But at the same time, we know that may not be completely realistic, so our goal is to offer educational programs virtually as well. And because we have had success with those virtual programs, probably continuing with those, even when we do get face to face,” Arie said.

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