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Texas AgriLife agronomist is on a mission to halt rural COVID-19 spread

Dr. Calvin Trostle, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension agronomist in Lubbock, is a regular fixture on many agriculture radio programs in and around the center of the South Plains. His message, however, is reaching farther than ever as stations share his message with dozens of their nationwide syndicated affiliates.

Given his broad platform, Trostle decided it was time to discuss something besides sorghum, soil testing, cotton or cover crops over the air.

“Farm and ranch country in Texas is still in the early phase of the coronavirus outbreak,” Trostle recently said over the KFLP airwaves in Floydada. “We can still contain it, which is especially important as health experts explain how easily it spreads.

“The next few weeks are very important. Common sense in Texas agriculture about how we conduct our business and social interactions, now, will better help us backstop jobs and the economy across the state.”

“In weed control, AgriLife Extension says, ‘start clean.’ Remove weeds before you plant. For coronavirus, ‘stay clean.’ Avoid infection in the first place.”

Dr. Calvin Trostle, AgriLife Extension agronomist

Flattening the curve

Trostle told listeners how Texas agriculture could help “flatten the curve.”

“There is no immunity to COVID-19—if you are exposed,” he said. “But our discipline in minimizing and eliminating social contact for now protects loved ones, friends, neighbors—and fellow Texas farmers and ranchers and those who work with them.”

Trostle said his desire to spread the message about social distancing was inspired by an email from a farmer in Lamb County. Billy Tiller, who owns a geosciences company that caters to the agricultural community, expressed to Trostle his concerns that some producers weren’t taking COVID-19 seriously enough.

“Billy told me he knew of instances where a group of up to 20 farmers were still congregating at a gin for their morning coffee—a long-standing tradition in many communities,” Trostle said.

Tiller was concerned some farmers weren’t understanding how crucial their well-being was to America’s food supply. Trostle emailed Tiller back with some advice to share with his clients and fellow farmers. That communication led Trostle to think about how he could reach even more people in rural areas to emphasize how crucial they are to the nation right now.

Protecting producers from COVID-19

“I and my AgriLife Extension colleagues are committed to the people who make Texas agriculture possible,” Trostle said. “I realized I could use the radio to let Texas farmers, ranchers and agriculture employees know how important each one of them are to Texas at this critical time.

calvin trostle

Calvin Trostle is spreading the word to farmers about the importance of social distancing — AgriLife Extension photo by Kay Ledbetter

“We need to be safe, otherwise the rural communities and way of life we cherish could see the nightmares of our urban neighbors.”

He said that farm and ranch operations will strengthen local Texas economies in a way a restaurant, a nail salon, or a clothing store cannot.

“A portion of Texas agriculture with greater challenges are our commercial fruit and vegetable farmers,” he said. “They contribute foods and produce you might immediately see in our grocery stores. If we’re sick, we won’t have the labor for planting and especially harvesting. We see this happening in Europe now.”

Safety first

Trostle shared with radio listeners that the virus and the sickness it inflicts is not just a Dallas or a New York City or a California problem.

“It might not be our problem in much of Texas agriculture at this moment, but it will soon be our problem if we’re not careful. And the consequences could be dire.”

The Texas agriculture community should follow the same coronavirus safety guidelines as everyone else, Trostle said.

“Even if you are in a farm and ranch community in Texas, or a county with not yet a single reported COVID-19 case, the too-common thinking is ‘what is to fear?’ That thinking needs to change. People around us may already be infected. We may just not know yet due to lack of widespread testing.”

Slowing the spread of the coronavirus

Trostle said limiting person-to-person contact immediately can help slow the spread of the coronavirus.

“In weed control, AgriLife Extension says, ‘start clean.’ Remove weeds before you plant. For coronavirus, ‘stay clean.’ Avoid infection in the first place.”

He encouraged Texas farmers and ranchers to wave, call, chat over the fence line or online – just make sure you visit with each other in ways that avoid groups and respects the 6-feet social distancing guideline.

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Trostle told listeners, “It might take someone like you to be the responsible one—at the gin or the farm store—and insist on social-distancing to account for the inaction of others.”

Reaching farmers nationwide

Since he addressed KFLP listeners, Trostle has also spoken about social distancing on KDHN in Dimmitt. He also will share his message on KRFE in Lubbock and is hoping to speak on some Amarillo stations as well. His KFLP program was recorded and is being used on Ag News Updates on stations from California to New York.

“Whether you are a commercial produce grower or a farm and ranch operation with a few employees, communicate and translate to each employee how important it is for them to follow safe health practices,” Trostle said.

“Texas farmers, ranchers and ag workers, you are too important to get sick. Isolate from others. The remote nature of your work makes this easier—and we always have plenty to do anyway. Together we will help sustain the Texas economy via agriculture to help our state pull through.”

Texas A&M AgriLife contributed this article.