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Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig discusses state COVID-19 relief, Chris Norton shares inspiration | The Spokesman Speaks Podcast, Episode 44

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Welcome to Episode 44 of The Spokesman Speaks podcast. In this episode, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig talks about state COVID-19 relief resources and Chris Norton (a former Luther College football player who experienced a paralyzing injury on the field and beat the odds to walk again) shares inspiration that we could all use right now.

Below are some of the resources referred to in this episode:

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Narrator: Welcome to the Spokesman Speaks a podcast from Iowa's leading agricultural news source brought to you by the Iowa Farm Bureau. Now here's your host. .

Delaney Howell: Welcome to the June 15th edition of the Spokesman Speaks Podcast. I'm Delaney Howell and today's episode features some practical COVID-19 relief updates from Iowa Secretary of Agriculture, Mike Naig, as well as a dose of inspiration from Chris Norton, the former Luther College football player who experienced a devastating injury and beat the odds to walk again. I don't know about you, but now seems like a great time to hear some inspirational messaging about somebody who's beat the odds during these challenging times, but let's start with Secretary Mike Naig Spokesman editor Dirck Steimel caught up with Secretary Naig last week to discuss state assistance for livestock farmers. Who've had their markets decimated by COVID-19 and additional aid that may be available to farmers in the near future. .

Dirck Steimel: We're here with Mike Naig, Iowa Agriculture Secretary to discuss efforts to help livestock farmers deal with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mike, you recently announced a disposal assistance program to help Iowa hog farmers offset the cost of dealing with pigs. They can't harvest due to the COVID-19 supply chain disruptions. Tell us about that program and why it's important to farmers. And also, how does this state program tie into other disposal assistance programs such as EQIP? .

Mike Naig: Well, our producers really all across Iowa agriculture, every farmer has been impacted by COVID-19 and the response to it. We've seen a dramatic reduction in prices. Throughout that time we've seen a significant disruption to the food supply chain. In a couple of those pieces being one food that was intended for food service, of course the demand dropped for that. And yet we saw a dramatic increase in the demand at the grocery store. And so there were, there were issues getting food through those supply chains. And then when we specifically look at the pork industry, we know that there was a processing capacity disruption in addition to a market disruption. And so for Iowa when we go back and look at the low point in terms of processing plant capacity, it was about the first week of May. We had a lot of our packing plants had workers that had tested positive for COVID-19 needed to be removed from the workplace and allow them to recover. And a lot of testing went into finding out what was going on in those workplaces. And then, but surely since then we've been able to build back up that processing capacity. At the end of last week, we were just over 80% of what we would normally expect process in the state of Iowa. And so at the low point, we were adding nearly 60,000 pigs per day to this backlog of animals that would otherwise have been marketed and under normal conditions. And so that backlog is building and building and building Iowa State economists estimate that by the middle of May and we were sitting at about 600,000 market pigs had missed their marketing window and farmers were having to then slow down the rate of gain by changing feed ration. They've been trying to find other alternatives to market their animals. They've been donating animals really just trying anything they can. Unfortunately those solutions just don't add up to the entirety of the problem. And you end up with a situation where some producers have been forced to, and I emphasize that forced to, euthanize some animals and euthanized, some market ready animals. And so what we're trying to do through the disposal assistance program that we rolled out was to help offset some of those disposal costs, because again, you're losing the value of the animal itself, but you're also incurring costs to dispose of that animal. And so we're offering $40 per head of market ready animals to, again, help ease that pressure on the supply chain and help our producers through a very, very difficult time. .

Dirck Steimel: Where can farmers go to get information on the specifics of the disposal assistance program is the Iowa Resource Coordination Center, a good option to go to? .

Mike Naig: It is. And so gosh, now over six weeks ago, we stood up an incident management team. We called it a Resource Coordination Center. And the whole point of that was that producers could call, reach out to the coordination center. Iowafarmerhelp.com is the website, but they could call and talk to an expert, whether that's somebody on our team or with Iowa State Extension or with the NRCS, EQIP, there are some EQIP dollars that are available to help with disposal costs as well. And we can connect folks to any of those resources. And so the RCC is a, a great place to find information. Again, iowafarmerhelp.com, but also just our Iowa Department of Agriculture, iowaagriculture.gov. We have more information on the disposal assistance program, but this is a time where we would really encourage folks to pick up the phone, reach out, talk to somebody. We can walk you through all the different pieces of this and the different options that are available to folks. .

Dirck Steimel: Mike, you mentioned this earlier, are you optimistic that the meat processing supply chain is recovering? So, farmers won't be faced with these difficult decisions in the coming months? .

Mike Naig: I am, I'm, I'm encouraged. And, and there's some reasons why, and again, let's state at the beginning of this conversation that we've known and believed that the food and agriculture supply chain is essential it's infrastructure to this country. And that means that every person working in that supply chain, whether it's on the input side on the farm or farmers and folks that work with them all the way through the supply chain, food manufacturing, food processing, trucking, grocery stores, all the way to the end of the chain are essential workers. And we need to remember that and we need to appreciate that. And so we won't get back to where we need to be on a processing capacity standpoint, unless we've got a workforce that's healthy and being taken care of, and they're confident that they can work safely. Now there's a lot that goes into that when it comes to the meat processing plant, we've seen the president to invoke the Defense Production Act, which we supported. I requested that action with the Governor and Senators, Ernst, and Grassley. Again, it, it underscores the importance and the critical nature of, of this supply chain. The governor has been incredibly supportive and pushed to prioritize testing of a workforce in those packing plants, both the viral testing, but also antibody testing. There's no other state that has been aggressive and has been willing to prioritize testing that workforce and supporting that workforce like the governor has and her team. And we appreciate that. And then there's guidance that comes from public health and CDC that helps packing management the plant management to implement mitigation steps in the plant to help spread folks out, put barriers in place, provide PPE. This is all part and parcel of helping those employees who are so important to us to be able to work safe. And as I said, starting at the beginning of May, we hit the low point and we're just slowly but surely working our way back. And this is also happening on the beef processing side too where every day it seems like we improve. We're now over 80% capacity in Iowa with pork. .

Dirck Steimel: What other key state and federal assistance programs are there to help livestock and crop farmers during the COVID-19 pandemic. And then also, do you expect more assistance coming in in the coming months? .

Mike Naig: I do expect more and that could come in a couple of forms. One is congressional action to bringing another round of assistance. We're appreciative of the, of the CFAP payments that Congress allocated dollars to USDA and USDA has rolled out assistance. And, and we're really appreciative of that because it's a, it's a tough thing to do. Everything that you can imagine, every sector in agriculture that's been impacted, but they did leave a few things out. And we think there's some notable pieces that should have been in. And one of those is our egg industry. 70% of Iowa was egg production, and we're number one in the nation, 70% of that goes into is broken on the farm it's liquid egg. And that price dropped 68% during the COVID-19 crisis, think of all the food service schools and restaurants and hotels that weren't serving that product anymore. So, that's one industry that's been left out, and renewable fuels was left out of the assistance. We saw nearly 60% reduction in the transportation fuel demand in this country. And that obviously has reduced the amount of ethanol biodiesel being burned as well. So, those pieces we think need to be included. And then I think the state of Iowa will also be looking at, are there some strategic investments that we can make, again, whether it's in renewables or whether further supporting the livestock industry or looking at some things that more, have more broad impact of investing in broadband and those types of things. I think those pieces will continue to come into focus and we'll have a longer view here needing to not only look at recovery and stabilizing the situation, but what does it look like to get positioned, to grow coming out of this crisis? .

Delaney Howell: I know that you'd much rather be discussing anything other than COVID-19 right now. I know I certainly would, but it's great to receive these updates on the relief that's available to farmers. You heard Dirck and Mike refer to the Iowa Resource Coordination Center as the hub for livestock farmers who need answers right now. So, again, in case you didn't catch that website, remember it's iowafarmerhelp.com or you can call the Resource Coordination Center directly at (515) 725-1005 to get your questions answered. The deadline to register for the most recent round of the Iowa Department of Agriculture livestock disposal program is coming right up on June 22nd. So, if you have any questions about the program or other assistance that's available to livestock farmers, be sure to call the Resource Coordination Center today. You also heard Secretary Naig refer to the federal government's Coronavirus Food Assistance Program. Also known as CFAP. This relief program for farmers is being administered by USDA, and now is the time to apply for details on how to sign up, go to farmers.gov/CFAP or call your county FSA office. Of course, we all recognize the financial impact COVID-19 is having an agriculture, but we don't really talk about the emotional toll it's having. So, for that side of the equation, we turned to Chris Norton, the Altoona native and former Luther College football player who experienced a paralyzing injury on the fields and was told that he had just a 3% chance of ever regaining movement below his neck, as different as that adversity sounds from what we're experiencing in agriculture, the lessons and motivation that Chris used to walk again, can certainly be applied to the situation we find ourselves in right now, but I don't want to give too much away. Let me have Chris tell you why in his own words, Farm Bureau's very own, Zach Bader has the story. .

Zach Bader: I'm joined now by Chris Norton and if that name sounds familiar, it should, Chris shared his inspiring story with us at Iowa Farm Bureau's annual meeting back in December, and we had a chance to do a podcast interview with Chris back then, and we reached out to Chris again, and he graciously agreed to join us again on the podcast, share his time and share some perspective and advice that I think we could all use right now, Chris, for those who aren't as familiar with your story, can you tell us a little bit about your background? .

Chris Norton: Yeah, so I grew up small town, Iowa Altoona, and then I went to Luther College to play football, and that's where kind of everything turned for me. I was just an 18 year old kid when I was running down to make a tackle and the sixth game the season and this time I jumped and I broke my neck severe spinal cord injury. And I was immediately flown out to Mayo Clinic where they had emergency surgery. And they told me the news that I had a 3% chance of ever regaining any feeling or movement back below the neck, which just, rocked my world as being, being an athlete and being this tough, strong man was, my identity. I felt like that's me and now it's all gone. And so just, slowly bit by bit, I've been able to, regain a little bit of strength. I'm still in a wheelchair, but been able to, walk across the stage to my college graduation four and a half years later after I was hurt which that video went viral. And then a few years after that was able to walk my bride, Emily seven yards down the aisle, which again, it went viral. And then we've, since then we've been foster parents, we've fostered 18 kids and we've also adopted five kids so far. So, that's kind of my life in a nutshell to get everyone kind of up to speed of kind of where I came from. And what's going on today. .

Zach Bader: Can you tell us what lessons you learned from the recovery that you're still going through right now that you'd offer to farmers and others who are dealing with adversity of their own? Right now, even if that's not the same kind of adversity that you've dealt with. .

Chris Norton: Something that was really important to me in the beginning when I was kind of struggling for that identity aspect of like, okay, I'm a, I'm an athlete, I'm a football player. Like how can I survive in this new kind of world of mine, but I really had to kind of reflect back on like, what are the important aspects that I took pride in, of being a football player? And it was my effort. It was my attitude. And those are the things that I had to like extract, like at the core of being a football player was really this never give up attitude. I'm going to work hard and have the right attitude. So, I feel like when you're going through adversity, you may be like you're going through maybe an identity crisis. And just trying to remember who you are at your core. And also who's special, remember that when you're going through adversity and going through that time, I was so worried about the future, like what is going to happen. .

Chris Norton: And typically that would just kind of bog me down. I was just thinking about all the, what ifs. And as I think about the, what if's my anxiety went up, but what helped me kind of channel my anxiety, my fear, I just channeled it towards working. Like what can I do in this one workout to just get a little bit better, take a small step forward. Because again, like we touched on in our last interview, you have to kind of push away the uncontrollable. Like there was so many things and factors that were out of my control and I just had to like fight for every piece that I could control. And I'm going to make sure I'm going to do my part and just kind of hope and pray for the rest to fall the place. And that's another thing too. Sometimes when life feels like it's falling apart, it could be just falling into place. But you just have to put your best foot forward each and every day, which is not an easy task. .

Zach Bader: I love your message about staying in the moment, focusing on those things you can control in your case, it's that next workout, it's that next step in your progression that can be obviously, better than anyone that can be hard when you feel like you're kind of drowning in grief or stress. And you can only think about the things that happened in the past or your adversity, thinking about things that you can't control in the future. Do you have any lessons or tactics or ways that you help yourself stay in the moment that you could pass along to others? .

Chris Norton: Yeah, what helps me like stay disciplined with, those values of like effort and just having the right attitude. And so I had to have a deeper meaning, like a purpose behind it. One thing that gives me purpose and reason to uphold those values that I believe in its thinking about the people that are counting on me. Like, people that are influenced by me. Which, everybody has an opportunity to influence people and you're influencing people, whether you realize it or not. So, for me, like I think about my kids, I think about my spouse, when I was in the hospital, I thought about my parents, my friends, any, any community members that I had a chance to influence. And that's for anybody, not just in my situation, but you have a great deal of influence over other people. So, trying to be that role model that you're going to show them how you handle adversity. Like you're going to show them how you can do it with grace. Now, I'm not saying you can't, you shouldn't hide your feelings. Like feelings are very real. You're going to feel anxious and overwhelmed that times. And I think it's okay to be vulnerable about that and just be open and honest. But at the same time, I'm thinking about how this might be impacting your kids, your spouse, and the people around you and giving them the right example. So, that gives me a lot of purpose and knowing my actions are going to be reflective on to other people. .

Zach Bader: I assume that you get hit with inspiration all the time and in the work that you do in the speeches that you give. Giving speeches to crowds or via social media. And you're probably hearing back from individuals who you've helped or others on social media about how they're dealing with their own adversity. Is there anything that you've learned about dealing with adversity that's inspired your continued recovery or that you'd pass along to others? .

Chris Norton: Well, I think when people open up about their experiences and the adversity that they faced. Now, I just really try to listen. And then also it just takes a great deal of courage to open up about your struggles and your problems and the diversity that you have faced or are facing. And so that's, that's a great, that's a great healing mechanism too. It's just talking about it. I think where we can get ourselves in trouble is when we bottle that up. So, I think there's healing and just sharing and talking about it. But once I'm, kind of done listening, hearing them out, I just, I kind of go back again to my experiences of just, just keep kind of plugging away, just taking it one small step at a time and recognizing that your future will take care of itself when you take care of today. And it's not easy to pick up the pieces, especially if things have broken apart in your life, but you got to have that hope to keep going. And even if it feels like false hope, it's better than no hope. And I also relied too on my faith. That's a huge foundation for me just believing in the supernatural and not just the natural and when I can see, but having this belief in something that I really can't see, and I really can't make sense of, but I know I got to keep going. .

Zach Bader: I think probably this last question here probably dovetails with that response pretty well. So, you obviously dealt with devastating adversity and you continue to overcome those challenges associated with this injury on a daily basis. Some people have seen the video, of course, many people have seen the video of you walking your bride down the aisle of walking at graduation, but that's, that's an everyday thing and every day is recovery for you. And so where do you find comfort and perspective as you take on the challenges of each new day? .

Chris Norton: I take my perspective just always recognize that things could be worse that, I had loved my family. Like I, I'm so thankful that I have, my spouse, I have had my kids, I have my grandma and I know that I have my health right now. So, it's just keeping that in perspective of my, what I do have versus what I should have or things I wish could be. So, I just try to stay grounded and in gratitude and just recognizing what I have and knowing that it could be worse. And that gives me a great deal of perspective of just understanding that things could be worse. And when that, and then you start to appreciate what you do have, and you start to feel better about your life when you could just every single day practice gratitude, whether it's just every time you're brushing your teeth in the morning, just think about the things that you do have. And, everyone's heard that before of gratitude, but it may be cliché, but it works like I'm constantly thinking about how much I've gained and what I have in my life. And that just keeps me, gives me the perspective of my life's great. And from the outside, looking in it, some people might question that as far as my physical limitations go, but I don't focus on the things that I don't have or I can't do anymore. I focus on my abilities and that just gives me a great strength and confidence in myself. .

Zach Bader: Chris, is there anything else that I haven't covered here that we haven't talked about that you'd want to leave farmers with as a closing? .

Chris Norton: I would just say, keep going just keep plugging away and just do your part. I know it's not easy and I don't think there were supposed to be easy. But just keep rooting back to who you are. Like farmers are, they're tough. They're, they're full of resilience. I know that I've met so many farmers and they all carry those same just strong values. And just don't let those slip away, just stay who you are and keep plugging away. .

Delaney Howell: Wow. Seriously, a lot of inspiration to tap into there. We certainly appreciate Chris sharing his story and some of the lessons that we can all put to good use to learn more about Chris's inspiring story and what he's up to today. You can visit chrisnorton.org. We also interviewed Chris back in episode 29 of the Spokesman Speaks Podcast. So, you can go back and check out that conversation in your favorite podcast app as well. Now is also a good time for us to remind you about the free and confidential resources available to help farm families manage the stress they're under. As we mentioned before, we don't often talk enough about the emotional toll things take on us. So, to check out those free resources, head to iowafarmbureau.com/farmstress, that's it for this episode of the Spokesman speaks I'm Delaney Howell. And if you've gained something valuable from this episode, I certainly have, I'd like you to do just a few things for me. First. I want you to find the Spokesman Speaks Podcast in your favorite podcast app that you're listening to it and right now, and give us a rating and review. Then, I want you to make sure you're subscribed to the Spokesman Speaks Podcast. So, you can hear all of our resources as well as our next regularly scheduled podcast episode on June 29th. Until next time, I hope that you stay safe, protect your loved ones and find new ways of responding to the challenges of feeding our neighbors in Iowa and all around the globe. Thanks for reading the Spokesman and thanks for listening to the Spokesman Speaks. .

Narrator: Thank you for listening to the Spokesman Speaks a podcast by Iowa Farm Bureau. Check out more podcasts and articles from the Spokesman at iowafarmbureau.com/Spokesman. You can also find and subscribe to the Spokesman Speaks Podcast in the Apple podcasts, Google play, and other popular podcast apps. We appreciate your ratings and reviews and welcome your feedback at podcast@ifbf.org.


About The Spokesman Speaks Podcast

Since 1934,  The Iowa Farm Bureau Spokesman has been Iowa’s leading agriculture news source, and today it is the largest circulation ag newspaper in Iowa. While the Spokesman newspaper is available exclusively to Iowa Farm Bureau members, The Spokesman Speaks podcast is available publicly, reaching farmers on-the-go with stories that matter to them. You can  find episodes of the podcast here or subscribe and listen in your favorite podcast app, such as Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, iHeartRadio, Stitcher, TuneInRadio, or Radio.com.

We release new podcast episodes every other Monday. Episode 45 will be released on June 29, 2020.



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