By Kansas Living on April 28, 2020
The coronavirus has caused major disruptions in almost every sector of agriculture. A host of issues mean we see shortages at the grocery stores. None of these issues are simple, and if you're like us, sorting through all of it can be overwhelming. We gathered a few common questions from consumers and asked Kansas farmers to share their perspectives. Have questions yourself? Send us a message.
How was the farming economy before COVID-19?
This year is a point where modern crop insurance shows its importance (crop insurance is a little like insurance on your car or house, it may not make you whole, but it helps when something bad happens). Basically a revenue guarantee was put into place before prices fell. For our farm, this hopefully will let us squeak by to minimize loss. Many farmers say crop insurance is the most highly important item to them in the farm bill.
When quarantine hit, prices all dropped like a rock! We need people at every stage along the production line to be healthy and at work. If any sector has to shut down, it backs up product. For example, as packing plants shut down because of COVID-19 cases in the worker population are not slaughtering cattle and my pen of cattle that are ready to be slaughtered will stay at the feedyard still eating and taking up space. I will still have to pay for their feed and care and "yardage," which means pen space, until the packer can get back to work and catch up on the cattle that have been in line.
It is the law of supply and demand at that point--I am still producing supply--cattle are being fed and readied for harvest, but with a packing plant closed, there is less demand for them at that point in the food production chain.
My husband and I raise crops and cattle in Central Kansas and, in all honestly, COVID-19 has only made a tough situation even worse. There is in no way a shortage of food - quite the opposite in fact - but the way people consume food - at home versus at school, in restaurants and at events and venues - has forced our food manufacturers, supply chains and vendors to undergo some massive changes in a matter of days and weeks.
Additionally, sickness is hitting food manufacturing workers and slowing their production rates - which all means a few less items on the shelves at the grocery store. But don’t worry - they are coming - because farmers are still growing crops, raising animals and producing milk.
We have seen the grain markets fall during the COVID-19 outbreak to a level that we will struggle to make a profit from the farm this year. An even larger issue for our farm is the lack of moisture. Our wheat is way behind where it should be because it didn’t get any rain to sprout it until after winter. It is very thin and in most fields, it would cost us more to take the combines in and cut it than we would receive for the meager amount of grain that will be there. We may destroy some of it(we hate to do that because of the cost of planting that crop) and put in milo or corn. That is a hard decision for us to make because we will have the expense of putting in a second crop and we still have had no moisture and there is none forecast in the foreseeable future. While COVID-19 has sent the markets on a downward trend, for our farm, Mother Nature has been the bigger challenge.
Which farmers have been hit the hardest since COVID-19?
All farmers and ranchers are affected by COVID-19. This graph shows the major impact on commodities.
Do commodity prices directly correlate to how profitable a farm is?
Yes, there is a correlation between commodity prices and a farmer’s income. There are other variables involved but when commodity prices are down, farm income is down and, unfortunately, it has been that way for several years now.
But ask any farmer and they will tell you they don’t do it to get rich, they do it because they love making a living in a tractor, raising animals and taking care of the land.
How do I support my local farmers and ranchers?
We love that people are getting more connected to agriculture and the importance of the amazing food supply chain we have in America. While we adamantly support products sold in grocery stores, we also know people are becoming more interested in buying directly from farmers and ranchers in their respective area.
The state trademark program, "From the Land of Kansas," promotes and celebrates agricultural products grown, raised or produced in Kansas. They have developed an interactive map of its members you can find producers on here.
Another great resource for common questions in setting up direct sales of beef from a rancher is here. It answers questions like:
- How much meat can I expect?
- How much of that will be hamburger?
- If I just want a quarter of beef, how do I know what cuts I'm getting?
- And many more...