Over the past seven weeks, we have all been overwhelmed with the daily news and updates on COVID-19. The impact on our economy, due to political actions, has also been staggering.
As usual, I will focus on food issues. Immediately after states began shutting down schools and businesses, farm commodity prices began to plummet across the board. The excuse: schools, restaurants, convention centers, and more are closed. I guess people do not eat when these close. Meanwhile, grocery store shelves were nearly empty, notably dairy, meat, bread, flour, and canned vegetables. This was first blamed on panic buying, resulting in limits being implemented, making it necessary for people, who were told to travel only for life-sustaining activity, to shop at multiple stores or many times a week just to buy necessities, especially those with large families, or those shopping for elderly family members or neighbors. After seven weeks, some basic food items are still hard to find.
Immediately after the shutdown began, dairy economists Mark Stevenson and Bob Cropp offered a dire outlook for US dairy farmers, indicating the price could tank for a year or more. They urged dairy farmers to cut production. Other dairy “experts” claim at least 10% too much milk. This may be a self-fulfilling prophecy if dairy products that people want remain in short supply and rationed in the grocery store.
From March 29th through April 4th, an estimated 200-300 tanker loads of milk were dumped in the US. This created bad press since many dairy cases were still empty. Now dairy farmers are being told by their buyer when their milk will not be picked up and must be dumped down the drain. The dairy farmer cannot sell or donate the milk unless he or she has a raw milk permit or means to process it. The farm milk price will soon drop to below the 1980 price level, which translates to less than 1/3 the buying power per unit of milk compared to 1980. In reality, after a mountain of deductions, the milk price will be even less. This follows five years of already low prices. Traditional dairy farms will disappear as dairy processors will almost certainly reap record profits. Only Progressive Agriculture Organization (PRO-AG) has offered a real plan to stabilize farm milk prices. Apart from that, USDA is expected to make up about 30% of the COVID-19-related losses, up to a certain dollar limit per farm.
In the beef market, beef packer profits per animal have tripled in the past six weeks, while live beef prices at the farm level have dropped.
We have verified reports that millions of chickens will be destroyed because of severe staffing shortages at processing facilities. (RFD-tv April 24, 2020) I have also heard reports of fertilized eggs being destroyed prior to hatching as well as young chicks being destroyed. These reports are widely collaborated. Remember, the farmer does not own these chickens; the poultry integrator does. The farmer cannot give away or sell these birds.
Chinese-owned Smithfield reported closing its hog processing plant in South Dakota. Many other huge meatpacking plants in the US have either closed or cut back. I have heard reports that pregnant sows are being butchered to reduce pig population. Other means are also being used to “depopulate.” Most hogs are owned by hog integrators, not the farmers raising them. These farmers cannot donate or sell them.
USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), announced on April 25th, the establishment of a National Incident Coordination Center to provide direct support to producers whose animals cannot move to market as a result of processing plant closures. The “support” will include killing and disposal of animals that would otherwise be used for food.
On April 8th, the Associated Press (AP) reported thousands of acres of unharvested vegetables being plowed under and countless tons of produce rotting after harvest. Many of the farms affected sell solely to the foodservice market. The AP article further reported, “Farmers are scrambling to sell to grocery stores, but it’s not easy. Large chains already have contracts with farmers who grow for retail-many from outside the US.”
Many fear food shortages for which there are sure to be scapegoats. All this and more is a serious indictment of the global, concentrated food system that is either unwilling or unable to properly serve our people in a time of upheaval. Everyone who eats needs to take this seriously. Most farmers do not have real freedom of speech because they fear losing their market. Many times only one market is available in this age of market concentration. Please be a voice for them. Get involved and support local farms. Demand that your “public servants” take immediate action to save what is left of the family farm community. Demand that they encourage local food production and processing. Urge them to support PRO-AG’s “Dairy Farmers’ Survival and Hope Act.” Most of all, continue to pray for Farmers, Ranchers, and Fishermen.
Gerald Carlin, Meshoppen, PA