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Quarantine difficult for Shelton farmer during harvest
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Quarantine difficult for Shelton farmer during harvest

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SHELTON — Spending two weeks in quarantine with her cats, Obi and Leia, was not part of the 2020 harvest season plan for farmer Deb Gangwish or her family.

“It threw us for a loop ... I feel like I lost part of my 2020 harvest experience by not being around,” she said, even though remote access to the farm’s business computer system allowed her to “virtually be in tune with harvest.”

“I rarely run equipment, but there is so much support work to be done with four crews running all over the countryside and the long hours when I wasn’t able to help during the most intense portion of our harvest around Shelton,” Gangwish explained.

She and her husband, Paul, have their PG Farms headquarters north of Shelton. They also have farmland and livestock in north-central Nebraska near Springview.

Their business includes approximately 9,000 acres of corn, 3,000 acres of soybeans, a 2,000-head cattle backgrounding lot, 1,000-head cow-calf herd, small trucking company and custom seed corn harvesting operation.

Gangwish is a member of the Nebraska and National Corn Growers Association boards.

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Her quarantine was necessary because of extended close contact with someone who became ill with COVID-19. She gave a fellow farmer a ride to a commodity meeting in Omaha.

“We were in my pickup for three hours,” she said, and attended the same meetings into the following afternoon. “... In our meetings, we wore masks, sat 6 feet apart and followed all local DHMs (directed health measures).”

Gangwish first was notified of her need to quarantine by her passenger. She then got a call from a health department representative.

“We were in the middle of seed (corn) harvest with two crews, a wet corn harvest crew and our bean harvest crew. My husband and I decided to mitigate risk by having me stay away from the farm and our team,” she said, so she spent 14 days in a small cabin the family has at Central City. “I took my cats with me.”

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She traveled to the family’s north Nebraska farm early this week, the day after she had completed her quarantine with no COVID-19 symptoms and two negative tests. Her companions were the two cats and a new 8-week-old charcoal lab named Jedi — Jed for short.

“We have a crop to get out and that overshadows so much of life now, but I am still thinking,” Gangwish said, explaining that her time in quarantine made her think a lot about the right thing to do, and how her decisions affect others and the family farm.

“I feel torn and conflicted about my own behavior because in the shop and around our farm, I don’t wear a mask. But I do for my errands or on the (equipment) parts run I have made this past week,” Gangwish told the Hub.

“Compared to so many other people, our lives moved forward with that ever-familiar comfort of the seasons and the work each season brings,” she continued. “It all happened this year as any other year: fertilizing, planting, spraying, irrigating, trucking, fixing machinery, running for parts, hiring employees and now harvest.”

Add a mid-summer wedding to the mix of things to do in farm country.

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Her daughter, Callie, married Dalton Kenning — who is part of a 10-member Gangwish crew still working in the Shelton-Wood River area to finish field corn harvest — on July 25.

Gangwish said the nearly 300 people who attended were required to follow all local health department directives and there were no known positive COVID-19 cases from that event.

“And then my friend tested positive and I went into quarantine. What a strange disease,” she added.

The recent spread of COVID-19 in the White House and Congress has made an already difficult year to address federal ag-related issues more difficult.

“As the spread within the administration and the (Capitol) Hill unfolds, it could have huge implications on what can be accomplished before the end of the year for the American people,” Gangwish said. “As this unravels, it is difficult to separate the COVID strand from the election strand and because of that, it appears the polarization adds difficulty and sluggishness to moving forward on key issues such as ethanol and trade.”

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Industry leaders are following explicit rules that limit travel, she said, while many 2020 events and meetings were switched to virtual. It’s hoped they can return to in-person next year.

The paralyzing effects of the pandemic and politics may not be repaired so easily.

“There is such a pervasive attitude of mistrust in folks I have talked with. Mistrust of the media, mistrust of scientists, mistrust of elected officials, mistrust of Democrats, mistrust of Republicans,” Gangwish said. “It seems our nation is paralyzed with distrust. Sadly, it seems the most trustworthy source of info at times is social media.

“How this attitude ... will play out has many implications domestically and internationally.”

Closer to home, University of Nebraska Medical Center specialists talk about rising COVID-19 cases in Nebraska and they urge people not to be complacent, she said. Meanwhile, many indoor farm shows remain on track to go forward.

“Is it the right thing to do? Economically, many say yes,” Gangwish said, “but what if there is an outbreak sourced from the farm show? Is it wrong to err on the side of caution?”

Many people say it’s impossible to live with “what if” thinking, she added. “But what happens if we don’t think that? I guess we will find out.”

Photos: Harvest time in Nebraska

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