I drove to Fargo the other day to spend some time working with a couple of my co-workers rather than working by myself in my basement office. A year ago, that wouldn't have been strange; in fact, I did it about every other week.
Of course, we've all spent the past year a bit differently than we expected. Instead of going into our office every other week, this is only about the third time I've been there since returning last March from the Agweek Farm Show in Rochester, Minn.
That was a surreal trip in March 2020, from beginning to end. Let's start with the "beginning" portion. After a ridiculously wet 2019, I had to navigate roads that had been swallowed up by sloughs that were as high as anyone can remember them being. I drove past fields with corn from the prior year still standing, along with standing water and thick mud.
We hit the road for Rochester and slowly watched the landscape change with the miles as we dipped into southeastern Minnesota, where the farmers hadn't faced as treacherous of conditions.
There was already some trepidation of traveling at that point. Since December 2019, our market columns had been referencing the coronavirus outbreak in China and its impact on soybean markets here. There were some cases in the U.S., and no one really knew what to expect. But at that point, the pandemic hadn't really seemed to rear its head. Our show was to go on, as were many events. We went to the show, met readers and viewers, completed some stories. I even got to visit with my aunt and cousins who live nearby, grabbing supper at a Rochester restaurant.
Of course, the world changed on our way back to Fargo the next day. We left Rochester in the world we were used to. But before we crossed into North Dakota, the NCAA basketball tournaments were canceled, people couldn't find toilet paper, gas prices were plummeting. I rushed the rest of the way home that night, and nothing has really been the same since. Within a few days, school would move to an uncertain virtual format for the rest of the year. Our office closed up, sending everyone home to work.
Now, back to my recent drive to Fargo. The roads and fields have re-emerged from the depths of the water. Instead of wondering whether anyone will be able to get into the fields, we're wondering if there will be enough moisture to bring up a crop. Drought is a primary concern for agriculture beyond just our region. A year ago, we wondered if the fields would ever dry. They did.
A year ago, I took no unusual health-related precautions as I crossed from central to eastern North Dakota and then to southeastern Minnesota. I mean, I washed my hands and sometimes used hand sanitizer. Now, I have boxes of masks in my car as well as hand sanitizer of my own. No one shakes hands.
When I got to the office the other day, it was mostly empty. Everyone still primarily is working from home, save the occasional exception like our short training party, which we did spread out at a big table while wearing masks.
And we find ourselves asking, how can things ever go back to normal? It seems hard to believe, but I think we'll be there. It's kind of like those fields I passed in March 2020. It didn't seem like anyone would be able to get anything planted on them, maybe for more than just the one season. Drought was the furthest thing from our minds.
Things aren't quite normal yet; our Agweek Farm Show will be held virtually March 23-24, something we couldn't have fathomed a year ago. But I think we'll get there. A lot can happen in a year.
Jenny Schlecht is Agweek's content manager. She lives on a farm and ranch in Medina, N.D., with her husband and two daughters. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 701-595-0425.