During the COVID pandemic, one of the many buzzwords includes the "pivot." And like everyone else that’s just what Arizona Farm Bureau’s Outreach Department did when the coronavirus slammed into all of us.

In any given year, the Outreach Team logs 25,000 to 35,000 miles on Arizona roads traveling to county board meetings, county Annual meetings and our state’s farms and ranches. By March of this year, it felt as if the undercarriage of our vehicles would begin to collect cobwebs; windshield time almost completely disappeared as the statewide shelter-in-place was declared by our governor.

Despite all this, even amid the pandemic while we’re moving forward with caution on the asphalt, my “road warriors” can be found at meetings under the suggested safety protocols of distancing and mask-wearing.

But our department’s big pivot forced us to lay down our set of keys and pick up the telephone. Gathering the team to discuss the implication of staying connected, I asked each team member to make  three calls a day to current agriculture members  of Arizona Farm Bureau. These calls were added to the already day-to-day tasks we conduct in our department:

  • weekly planning and strategy conversations with county leaders on a variety of issues,
  • member benefit management (which hosts daily calls),
  • program planning and implementation for Women’s Leadership and Young Farmer & Rancher committees,  
  • We still must put out our monthly publication  Arizona Agriculture,
  • the monthly  Agent Advantage,
  • the quarterly  CHOICES,
  • daily social media implementation,
  • sponsorship work,
  • advertising and marketing work,
  • video production oversight,
  • market research and outreach results work,
  • and much more.

Our work on behalf of the quarterly Marketbasket media outreach was suspended due to COVID-19. But general media relations work spiked due to the pandemic and positioned Arizona Farm Bureau as a thought leader when it came to disruptions in the agricultural supply chain.

Even without a pandemic, the Outreach Team will tell you some days feel like their telephones are permanently attached to their ears. With all our modern communications tools, the trusty phone truly works (though one of the best ways for me to get in touch with certain farmers and ranchers is through Facebook’s Messenger).

So as of the end of September, curious about the results of the “Pandemic-driven Customer Care” calls? All current ag members with the correct contact information in  Apache, Coconino, Gila, Graham, Greenlee, La Paz, Mohave, Navajo, Pinal, Yavapai  and  Yuma  have been called with a live connection or a voice message. During our conversation, or when leaving a message, we provide COVID-19 ag-specific information directing members to azfb.org where regularly updated information is posted. We’re halfway through Maricopa and Pinal Counties. Pima, Santa Cruz and Cochise Counties remain.

This effort has been labor-intensive but for me a labor of love. We know our ag membership much better. The whole team has referenced the great conversations with farm and ranch members who had a moment to visit with us (indeed, most of our farmers and ranchers were a bit too busy to stay on the telephone too long). And the effort allowed us to personally direct our members to the correct information about the USDA’s recent Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP), along with other important information.

A common comment from those we caught answering their telephones: “Julie, we’re used to sheltering-in-place here on the ranch [or farm] and our freezer if full of meat. We’ll be fine.”

The bigger concern for many was that other Arizona families might not be faring as well with jobs lost and so much more. Our conversations also cover depressed agriculture commodity prices and the economic outlook for agriculture.

My farmers and ranchers like numbers so here are some. With our team fully staffed in June, we’re connecting with 60 ag members a week, for an average of 240 “Pandemic-driven Customer Care” calls monthly. Only two weeks out of the 6 months did I suspend calls because of how crazy those two weeks were on our schedules. The pandemic calls don’t reflect all the other calls we have to make in any given week. While my role as Director is completely different than my teams and while I’m making these calls too I tracked my calls a few weeks ago: Including my 15 pandemic calls, I logged another 40 calls and/or texts to Arizona farmers and ranchers for a variety of reasons including soliciting for media interviews, profiles stories and so much more (that week I was also prescheduling farmers and ranchers to feature on our weekly Instagram Live “Talk to a Farmer/Rancher.” This also doesn’t count our connections with our staff team and peers in the industry, though Teams or Zoom dominate these connections. In fact, as of October 1, we've made 2,350 "pandemic customer care calls."

If you didn’t get your call or want to return that voice mail message we left you, call us. We’ll visit and share important information but best of all, we’ll get to know you better.

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