A roundup of news, reports, and research on agribusiness and related issues.
Back in March, the coronavirus started triggering infection hotspots in and around meatpacking plants, sickening and killing workers. As local public health authorities pushed giant meat conglomerates to close infected facilities, industry executives warned that doing so was “pushing our country perilously close to the edge in terms of our meat supply,” as Kenneth M. Sullivan, CEO of Smithfield, the world’s largest pork producer, declared in a April 12 press release.
Two weeks later, after similar laments from an executive at rival meat conglomerate Tyson, President Donald Trump rushed to the industry’s defense and signed an executive order declaring that the US Department of Agriculture “shall take all appropriate action” to “ensure that meat and poultry processors continue operations.”
Images of some American farmers dumping milk, plowing under crops and tossing perishables amid sagging demand and falling prices during the deadly coronavirus pandemic has made for dramatic TV.
But it's not the whole story.
"We had a reporter call here and say, 'We want to see some produce rotting in the field and milk going down the drains,' " said Judith Redmond, a longtime farmer in California's Capay Valley, northwest of Sacramento. "And I said, 'Well, actually, that's not what's happening in the Capay Valley.' "
Redmond, a founding partner of the 450-acre, organic Full Belly Farm, is busier than ever trying to ramp up production to meet soaring demand.
From California to Maine, the movement known as community supported agriculture (CSA) is booming. Members buy a share of a farm's often organic harvest that gets delivered weekly in a box. CSA programs almost everywhere report a surge in memberships and growing waiting lists.
Farm state lawmakers and cattle producers are asking for action to strengthen the integrity of the cattle market and requesting an investigation into the volatility tied to the COVID-19 pandemic.
U.S. Sen John Thune, R-S.D., has asked both the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Justice to look into possible collusion.
“I think we need some answers. There are no good explanations. Livestock producers are at a loss to try to figure out what’s going on with this volatility,” he says.
This is the second time there have been questions about the integrity of the beef markets in the last year, starting with the Tyson plant fire in Holcomb, Kan., in August and now the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Packers are pocketing $600 an animal and you’ve got livestock producers who are just taking it in the shorts. So, something has got to give here, and I think its time for us to get some answers," Thune says.
- Farmers have plenty of crops. The problem is who can buy them—and how. | Atlanta Magazine
Ashley Rodgers had to have faith—even if it was the size of a mustard seed.
The owner of Rodgers Greens and Roots in Douglasville braced herself in mid-March as restaurants that for years had snatched up her crops—Miller Union and C. Ellet’s and St. Cecilia, to name a few—started to close their doors in rapid succession, to wait out the worst of COVID-19. At around the same time, the threat of the virus temporarily shut down the Peachtree Road Farmers Market in Buckhead, at which she typically earns about 75 percent of her income in early spring.
Rodgers did her best to adapt. First, she scrambled to set up an online ordering form to draw more of the public to the on-farm produce pickup she already had in place. Then, when the Peachtree Road Farmers Market reopened at the beginning of April after Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms deemed it an essential business, Rodgers started offering preorders for pickup at the market.
She was able to rebound from the initially steep loss of income. In April, her revenue was back to a level typical for that time of year. But Rodgers is still taking it day by day, unable to gauge the full effect the pandemic will have on her farm.
- A meaty problem | Reuters
While meat companies in the United States warn of shortages as the coronavirus sickens and kills slaughterhouse workers, exports to China have surged, further tightening supplies for American consumers, according to a Reuters analysis of U.S. data.
U.S. pork exports to China have been increasing for much longer. They started to climb in August 2018, when China first detected the African swine fever, which has killed up to half its herd. Retaliatory tariffs that China imposed on imports of U.S. pork hampered shipments in 2018 and 2019.
The current supply concerns could not have been foreseen when U.S. President Donald Trump signed a deal in January to ease the trade war. China promised to increase purchases of U.S. farm goods by at least $12.5 billion in 2020 and $19.5 billion in 2021, over the 2017 level of $24 billion.