Several groups have taken to social media using the hashtag #stillfarming to let consumers know that agriculture is one of 16 essential business structures and that farmers continue to grow food during the coronavirus pandemic.
As some farmers I know have joked, they’ve been social distancing alone in their tractor cabs for years, so self-isolating is nothing new. All joking aside, agriculture and the allied industries have been charged with the monumental task of continuing to feed the nation while keeping their workers and family safe from the coronavirus.
So far, agricultural chemical dealers have reported only spotty absenteeism among their employees as some have decided to self-isolate. Deliveries of seed, crop protection materials and other inputs appear relatively unaffected so far. Whether that continues will depend on the COVID-19 spread and how long the shelter-in-place rules remain in effect.
Harvest of most crops is still several months off, and growers say they hope things return to some semblance of normalcy before then. Finding reliable help is tough anyway, but adding the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus just boosts growers’ anxieties.
Although grocery shelves may not reflect it, the nation still has plenty of food. The challenge is the supply chain. Rice millers, for example, make best-educated forecasts about what retail sales will be in coming months and process and package accordingly. There was no way they could foresee retail demands doubling in a matter of a week as consumers panic bought and hoarded.
The same applies to trucking. Produce packers, rice millers and other food processors had trucks lined up to transport their normal supplies to grocery distributors and grocery stores. Then the coronavirus struck.
It will take several weeks for packers, processors, millers and truckers to backfill the voids left on grocery store shelves.
If there is a positive note to the COVID-19 outbreak, it is that children are home from school and able to help on the farm.
A producer I know also points out consumers are finally starting to make the connection that grocery stores don’t produce food — farmers do. Unfortunately, it took a pandemic to drive home the point.