The COVID-19 pandemic and efforts to slow its spread impacted nearly all aspects of life this spring for citizens, businesses and organizations across the world.
The Alabama Farmers Federation and Alfa Insurance were no exception.
“Our priority is to safeguard the health of our members, customers, employees and their families,” said Federation and Alfa President Jimmy Parnell. “Agriculture and insurance are both essential to our state and nation. We are working to ensure uninterrupted service while being a responsible partner in the communities we serve. We are grateful for loyal customers and are blessed to have the financial strength to help them weather this storm.”
Alfa and the Federation began taking proactive steps in mid-March to support social distancing. Employees were equipped with technology to facilitate working from home; customers utilized non-contact service options including AlfaInsurance.com; service centers remained open but limited access to appointments only; and large meetings were canceled, postponed or held by videoconference.
To help policyholders facing financial strain due to COVID-19, Alfa Insurance offered to temporarily suspend policy cancellations due to non-payment of premium. The company also waived late fees.
“When disaster strikes, Alfa is the first to answer the call. While the disruption caused by COVID-19 is not a natural disaster, we realize the devastating impact it’s having on our neighbors and communities,” Parnell said. “We’re happy to be part of easing the immediate impact from this pandemic.”
Ripple effects from COVID-19 impacted the Montgomery home office. The Alfa childcare center closed, vendor access was restricted, and the cafeteria transitioned to carry-out only.
In the Federation, the Junior Beef Expo (JBE) was among the first events postponed when the City of Montgomery closed Garrett Coliseum, impacting the Southeastern Livestock Exposition and related events. JBE organizers and sponsors are exploring opportunities to honor the exhibitors’ year-long work.
The Federation Women’s Leadership Conference and Farm-City Awards Luncheon were canceled. Farm-City student and county winners will be announced during a Facebook Live event May 12, when the Farm of Distinction winner will also be honored.
Other impacted events include the South Dakota Beef Tour, postponed until 2021; Ag In The Classroom Summer Institute, rescheduled for Sept. 11-12 and renamed the Teacher Workshop; and the Peanut Referendum vote, postponed. Travel and gathering restrictions affected dozens of county meetings, as well as Alfa Insurance events.
Meanwhile, the pandemic changed the way farmers do business. U.S. Department of Agriculture and Alabama Cooperative Extension System offices were among agencies and businesses with altered hours and remote work schedules.
Stay-at-home orders, travel restrictions, federal stimulus packages and rapidly changing news prompted questions from farmers, leading the Federation to create the COVID-19 Ag Report online at AlfaFarmers.org. Communications were enhanced with special editions of the Capitol Connection newsletter; more than a dozen news stories; modified content in Neighbors magazine and the Cultivator newsletter; social media posts highlighting families who are #StillFarming; Virtual Field Trips highlighting commodities and farmers; posting of Ag Mags and other educational materials; and Facebook playlists of “Simply Southern TV” segments.
COVID-19 also disrupted public policy. Alabama Republican and Democratic runoff election elections were postponed from March 31 to July 14. The Alabama Legislature extended its spring recess by a week before setting April 28 as the first possible date to reconvene. State lawmakers are required to pass the Education Trust Fund and General Fund budgets by May 18, or Gov. Kay Ivey will need to call a special session. With the full impact of the economic downturn and possible federal stimulus money unknown, legislators are expected to pass bare-bones budgets or delay action until summer.
Despite COVID-19’s unprecedented challenges, Parnell said he was encouraged by changes he witnessed during the pandemic.
“We are focusing more on faith, family and helping others,” he said. “That’s a good thing.”