Agriculture industry yet another area feeling pressure from COVID-19 pandemic

BY KACIE TIMMONS

COVID-19 has interrupted almost every facet of daily life for Americans in the past week and a half. Most public places and events have been shut down or canceled, including schools, churches and restaurants.  

Farmers are also feeling repercussions from the virus, most significantly from the markets. 

The coronavirus has affected economies around the world resulting in volatile markets. The global trade of many commodities has slowed, or in some cases, completely shut down, causing prices to tank. 

Market prices are susceptible to emotions, not just fundamental facts. 

Jeremy Ryan, an agriculture business instructor at FHSU and an agriculture producer, understands the stress and demands COVID-19 has put on the agriculture industry. 

“What makes our job as producers really difficult is trying to develop a strong marketing plan when market prices aren’t reacting accordingly with supply and demand,” Ryan said. 

The coronavirus has also affected the United States’ trade deal with China — a deal many producers hoped would boost the agriculture industry. Now commodities to be exported are being held up in ports and taking longer to reach their intended destinations.  

Social distancing and quarantine actions have lowered the demand for food from restaurants and public eating places, but essentials like ground hamburger, eggs and bread have been flying off the shelves at supermarkets and grocery stores faster than employees can restock. 

Packing plants, slaughterhouses and larger farms are facing the possibility of labor shortages, which could potentially slow the supply chain. 

An overwhelming amount of information provided by several different outlets is spreading fear and anxiety among the general public, including some farmers and ranchers. Many producers are already struggling to stay afloat after years of little to no profit, and the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus is putting their operations at even more risk. 

However, it is important to remain level-headed and to realize food is a necessity, so there will always be a market for it. 

“I think we are going to see small windows where we can find a marketing opportunity, but the key is to be sure we know our break-even point and are marketing above cost of production, Ryan said.”

At the end of the day, people still have to eat, and agriculture is one of the critical industries that needs to keep operating amidst the coronavirus chaos. While many Americans are transitioning to a new normal and beginning to work from home, the daily responsibilities of farmers remain unchanged. Livestock need to be fed and cared for, and calving season is still in full swing for a number of producers. 

“One of my biggest concerns is whether or not businesses will stay open so I can get fertilizer, seed, chemical and other supplies when I need it,” said Glenn Timmons, co-owner of Timmons Bros. Farms in Smith Center. 

Spring planting is just around the corner, which means farmers are in the field fertilizing and prepping the soil for this year’s crops. The responsibility to feed the world doesn’t go away in the middle of a pandemic. 

The drought in Australia and the locust plagues in Africa and the Middle East have limited the amount of food those countries were able to produce, making it even more important U.S. farmers raise a crop this year.

The fear of the unknown is felt by every producer and consumer. By uniting together, farmers believe they can get through these uncertain times.

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