Trying times

Just as some signs of improvement slowly begin to show during COVID 19, things are getting worse for agriculture. As the general economy has been shut down we have been reminded that just a few weeks ago things were booming. However, that is not the case with the ag economy. It was already struggling when the pandemic hit. Now almost every sector of agriculture is feeling the brunt of the economic shutdown. The pork industry is projecting a loss of over $5 billion and the cattle industry over $13 billion. Dairy, cotton, fruit and vegetable producers are all hurting. The biofuels industry is facing the worse crisis it has ever seen and that takes away a key market for corn and soybeans. Usually, our focus on agriculture is on supply/demand issues and that is still the case for liquid fuels. As demand has slowed drastically it has led to increasing stocks. However, in the case of dairy and meat, it’s a different story. We have demand and we have supply yet people are having a hard time getting food and producers are faced with destroying it. These are indeed trying times. It is also a reminder that most people have no idea how food gets to their grocery stores. I have had several people reach out to me concerned with what they are seeing in the news. They wonder how people could be without food yet farmers are having to dump milk or destroy animals. I even had someone offer to drive their car to a farm to get food and take it to a food bank. The intention is good but it does reveal the knowledge gap that exists about today’s food production. The breakdown is in the supply chain as workers in processing plants are testing positive for the coronavirus. These vital workers, often unnoticed and underappreciated, are key links in our food supply chain. While we are blessed to have an abundant supply of food even that can be threatened as lower commodity prices threaten to put producers out of business. Hopefully, USDA, swamped with requests for relief, will be able to step in and purchase large quantities of commodities from producers and then donate them to feeding programs. That would help ease the pressure on both ends of the food chain while giving time for the workers in the middle of the chain to get healthy and return to work. In the meantime Secretary Perdue has another challenge on his hands. He has to assure a concerned public that food coming from processing plants with sick workers is safe to eat. Several years ago, then Ag Secretary Ann Veneman faced a similar challenge when a case of BSE (mad cow disease) was discovered. Veneman did an excellent job of reassuring the public that our beef supply was safe. It was probably the biggest accomplishment of her time as ag secretary. Secretary Perdue is now faced with an even bigger challenge. Hopefully, he will be as successful.