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Farmers Continue Essential Work During COVID-19 Crisis

Farmers Continue Essential Work During COVID-19 Crisis
March 18, 2020 |

Debra Davis

While the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has altered daily patterns of many U.S. citizens, American farmers continue to harvest and plant crops and tend livestock and poultry — all essential to the nation’s food supply.

“Food is essential all year-round, but in the face of a pandemic, it is critical the shelves remain stocked and supplies remain plentiful,” said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. “America’s farmers and ranchers, and those on the front lines in the food service industry, are doing their part. President Trump is encouraging a ‘whole of America’ approach to the challenges we currently face. At the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), we know when we work together to solve the problems facing us, we can overcome this time of uncertainty and fear.”

Perdue said USDA also is working to protect the health of its employees, as well as stakeholders in the food delivery systems.

The Alabama Farmers Federation is the state’s largest farm organization and is monitoring the effects of the virus on its members and agriculture production, said President Jimmy Parnell. The Farmers Federation is a member of the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF).

“Farmers in Alabama and across the U.S. continue working to grow the food and fiber we all need,” Parnell said. “Their resilience in the face of challenges should encourage all Americans. We are blessed with abundant and affordable food, thanks to their determination, innovation and hard work.”

However, Alabama farmers are beginning to see impacts due to the closure of businesses, as well as disrupted commodity markets, Parnell added. Specifically, farmers who supply fresh food to restaurants are seeking alternative markets.

“The Federation is working with our members, Alabama’s Congressional delegation and USDA officials to address their concerns and ensure an uninterrupted supply of agricultural products for our country,” Parnell said.

The U.S. government has suspended visa processing in Mexico to combat spreading the virus. The suspension began today and is concerning some Alabama farmers and others across the country.

“The decision to halt visa application processing in Mexico will restrict the number of immigrant workers being allowed to enter the country,” AFBF President Zippy Duvall said. “Under the new restrictions, American farmers will not have access to all of the skilled immigrant labor needed at a critical time in the planting season. This threatens our ability to put food on Americans’ tables.”

Other concerns are possible interruptions of USDA inspections required for much of the food sold in America.

USDA Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Greg Ibach and USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Mindy Brashears sent a letter to stakeholders reassuring them that USDA agencies are rising to meet the challenges associated with COVID-19.

“As leaders of USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Agricultural Marketing Service and Food Safety and Inspection Service, we can assure you that the agencies are committed to ensuring the health and safety of our employees while still providing the timely delivery of the services to maintain the movement of America’s food supply from farm to fork,” the letter said. “As we come together as a country to address this public health threat, know that USDA remains committed to working closely with industry to fulfill our mission of ensuring the safety of the U.S. food supply and protecting agricultural health.”

For more information regarding the H-2A program, visit farmers.gov/manage/h2a or email questions to aglabor@usda.gov

For the most up-to-date information from the USDA, visit usda.gov/coronavirus.

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