COVID-19, otherwise known as coronavirus, is a deadly, flu-like virus that spreads viciously and has turned into a worldwide pandemic. Schools, restaurants, stores, and any other non-essential businesses have been shut down due to this devastating virus. However, agriculture is still continuing to work through this difficult time, much like our medical professionals are working, too. Agriculture workers had to adapt, but they are still trying to continue business as usual. Some areas of agriculture have been impacted greatly, and the producers have certain stipulations that they must follow.
Natalie Prince, the Chief Program Specialist for USDA, explained, “It’s been rough in certain areas for agriculture. Some areas haven’t changed, others have done nothing but changed. That being said, there has not been lots of marketable options for producers to sell their products.” Prince also mentioned that “on a lighter note” the amount of tractors and combines that have passed her house makes it seem like producers are still trying to get planting in. She noted, “So that’s really good that planting hasn’t stopped.”
“There’s also food plants and factories that have been closed, which directly affects producers that have contracts with those certain factories. Even though it’s hard for the producers, people cannot work in factories where they all use and touch the same things because of COVID-19. No matter how much social distancing that factory may try to accomplish, it’s very hard for that to not spread. And consumers definitely don’t want infected people handling their food.” Prince also said that even though this time is difficult for people, producers are still trying their hardest to make sure their job can still get done in a safe, yet effective way.
It has been reported that some producers are destroying their crops, such as squash and fresh fruits and vegetables because they do not have a market to sell their products (WNIJ News). There are also reports of milk being dumped due to lack of demand (WNIJ News). All USDA and FSA offices are open, but producers are not able to go to their offices. They must do FSA business without visiting state and county offices. Also, even though not many details are known at this time, the Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, announced on Friday, April 17, a new $19 billion Coronavirus food assistance program. It will provide direct payments for farmers and ranchers including livestock producers, row crop producers, specialty crop producers, and any other crop producers (Wiesemeyer).
A big problem right now is manifesting in the beef industry due to some of the extensive changes being made. Agricultural industries are investigating the “potential market manipulation and other illegal activity by large meat-packing companies in the cattle industry.” They have reported that live cattle prices are down 16% even though American consumers bought around 77% more meat since the beginning of COVID-19 (Fatka). With the country on lockdown, the U.S. federal government has been trying to resolve problems with issues pertaining to the virus. The meat-packing companies may be able to seek ways to manipulate the system to make margins not match up correctly (Fatka). Senator Chuck Grassley has written a letter to the United States Department of Justice and the United States Department of Agriculture to help investigate whether or not the numbers are accurate (Fatka). If the meat packaging companies feel they can manipulate numbers and margins because of the distraction due to COVID-19, there will be an investigation to further look into these allegations.
Hopefully a nice spring and summer will come our way, so producers can plant. Still, people must continue to stress the importance of social distancing until this ugly virus has come to an end.
Fatka, J. (2020, April 6). Investigation into potential beef market manipulation sought. Retrieved April 16, 2020, from https://www.beefmagazine.com/legislative/investigation-potential-beef-market-manipulation-sought?fbclid=IwAR37ZHSdZu_CeuT_e2gi_zEgWDj7qUUAXZsq5KY_KwDoL6ylnRonqB_oZIY
News, W. N. I. J. (2020, April 18). Rochelle Foods Forced To Close For Two Weeks Due To COVID-19 Response. Retrieved April 20, 2020, from https://www.northernpublicradio.org/post/rochelle-foods-forced-close-two-weeks-due-covid-19-response.
Wiesemeyer, J. (2020, April 18). Perdue Announces $19 Billion Coronavirus Food Assistance Program. Retrieved April 20, 2020, from https://www.profarmer.com/markets/policy/perdue-announces-19-billion-coronavirus-food-assistance-program.