Coronavirus has had an incredible impact on just about every market in the developed world. Retailers struggled to get products off of their shelves, while grocers tried to keep their shelves stocked, restaurants closed their doors for months, and countless brick and mortar stores scrambled to go digital. As for American farmers, many of their crops were wasted and razor-thin margins became thinner. Modern technologies are being rapidly deployed to save the day, but the agricultural community may be changed forever.
What COVID Did to Crops and Commerce
The situation with the novel coronavirus is unprecedented – raising many questions about the future of farming. So far, the virus has wreaked havoc on fields, crops, and commercial farms because of supply chain restrictions, workforce depletions, global stock market crashes, and growing concerns about a continual viral presence. The mysteries surrounding COVID-19 and the resulting economic downturn are drastically hindering the productivity (and enthusiasm) of most agricultural land managers. As a result, the time is ripe for innovative farming technologies and sustainable business models – wind, water, and solar power harnessing, for example.
The Future of Farming with the Coronavirus
If the virus has taught us anything it’s that being prepared for global calamity isn’t just a pastime for the paranoid. Farmers, their families, agricultural employers, and their employees need to carefully consider a few facts when planning for the next growing season. Here are five things you need to know according to experts at the University of Wisconsin:
- Markets and Prices May Change Dramatically
People are making more mindful decisions about what they eat, where they go, and how much they spend. Because COVID-19 precautions include social distancing and voluntary quarantines, consumers are spending a lot less on goods and services that involve crowds, traveling, and/or in-person interactions. The impact of those behaviors on global demand may drive costs up or down depending on the health of the supply chain. Unfortunately, supply chains have been slowed or disrupted since the beginning of the pandemic. On the bright side, most markets are still trading electronically.
- Global Trade Might Decrease Significantly
Governmental concerns about the origins of the virus and efforts to slow the spread have created tension at our borders, meaning merchants aren’t as willing to buy, sell, or trade with American farmers (or vice versa). Additional safety and handling fees are also being added to some sales receipts, and unprepared vendors are now struggling to keep up with greater demands from the remote sector of the market. The most at-risk agricultural product sector may be dairy, with delayed economic bounce-backs pushing out milk price recoveries for yet another year.
- Farmers May Experience Decreased Health
Successful farmers need strong mental and physical health. Throughout the Midwest, the average farmer is slightly older than the general population but usually as healthy as an ox. As we all know now, however, COVID-19 is especially dangerous for seniors and people with pre-existing conditions. And 11.7% of American farmers are 75 years or older, so the impact of this virus may have longer tentacles than we think. There are still many unknowns about the mental ramifications of the virus. But no matter, it’s obvious that aged Ag managers need to take safety precautions seriously.
- Good Help May Become Even Harder to Find
Labor shortages may seem counterintuitive during an economic collapse that leaves millions of able-bodied men and women out of work, but that’s what a worldwide pandemic will do. Some workers are still afraid to return to work because of the threat of infection, especially if they live with or take care of someone who is in a high-risk group. And in states where the viral presence is much higher than others, lengthy workplace absences could put busy agricultural projects in a very tight spot. Unfortunately, those same concerns affect distributors, processors, and the rest of the country’s agricultural supply chain.
- Safety and Confidence May be Compromised
Employee/employer safety is paramount in the food growing business but shortages on PPE (personal protection equipment) may put some workers at an increased risk while on the job. The current demands for N-95 respirators by essential healthcare workers means fewer options for private citizens and businesses. In the spring when dusty grain is harvested and while handling potentially infected livestock year-round, the availability (or lack thereof) of protective gear may limit what farmers can do and could significantly decrease produce quality as a result.
It will take some time before we can accurately measure the mental, emotional, physical, and financial effects of COVID-19 on the agricultural community. To reduce the spread, farmers are obviously urged to take heightened precautions when handling goods or doing business with other entities. Despite growing concerns about supply chain health, hoarding of produce isn’t recommended as it could cause even greater problems for the country’s already struggling infrastructure. Furthermore, agricultural land managers are advised not to gouge prices out of fear.
The Bigger Picture
Although Coronavirus has blindsided American farmers, the resilience they’ve displayed through other global calamities is a beacon of hope for the rest of our country. Fortunately, the U.S. government is supporting the agricultural industry through various Federal aid programs and regulatory reform. A few minor adjustments may have to be made for the time being, but eventually our robust nation will regain its foothold and return as an economic powerhouse. As one of American’s essential workers, it’s farmer’s responsibility to remain educated and informed. For tips on how to survive and thrive during the temporary coronavirus outbreak, visit Farmers.gov/coronavirus.