by Marlee Moore
While farmers are hard at work in fields, pastures and barns, trickle-down from the coronavirus pandemic is having varied effects on their end products.
Price swings and processing challenges have impacted some commodities, but agriculture’s ingenuity and adaptability also has been highlighted during these unprecedented times, said the Alabama Farmers Federation’s Brian Hardin.
“Farmers are resilient,” said Hardin, the Federation’s Governmental & Agricultural Programs Department director. “Our staff is communicating constantly with our farmer-members, state and national officials, and industry partners. Our goals are to stay on top of issues affecting farmers and advocate for their needs both in Montgomery and Washington, D.C.”
Examples include conference calls where county Farmers Federation presidents, Federation board members, state commodity committee members and affiliated board chairmen receive issues updates and voice concerns to staff. Additionally, the COVID-19 Ag Report has helpful information at AlfaFarmers.org.
Commodity directors have noted key issues they are monitoring during the pandemic.
- A recent study commissioned by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association shows cow-calf producers will see the largest impact from COVID-19 at a loss of $3.7 billion, or $111.91 per head for each mature breeding animal in the U.S.
- Maintaining a functioning supply chain has proven difficult. Health concerns have forced many packing plants into reduced harvest capacity or temporary closures. The result has led to hundreds of thousands of cattle backlogged in feedlots waiting to be processed.
Poultry & Egg
- Supply chain issues arose due to shifts in demand for one specific size bird.
- Labor issues in processing facilities caused processing to slow due to employees who tested positive for COVID-19.
- Egg prices temporarily spiked due to increased demand but are gradually returning to a more normal range.
- As the economy suffers, the housing market is declining, causing a slowdown in new construction. Alabama is one of the top forest products producers in the country and grows more timber than is harvested. With cattle prices continuing to slide, more landowners could plant trees for a long-term investment.
- While some mills are proceeding with caution to avoid oversupply, certain areas of the state are showing signs of improvement. Several pulp and paper mills and some sawmills have returned to 100% production. Other mills are shut down or running at partial production. As restrictions ease, expect mills to return to normal production.
Cotton, Peanuts, Soybeans and Wheat & Feed Grains
- Cotton, soybean and corn producers have concerns when looking at current markets, which have not been favorable for weeks. Many planting decisions were made and supplies bought before the pandemic, causing farmers to plant and hope for the best.
- Increased demand for peanut butter, coupled with a poor-quality crop in 2019, set the stage for an increase in contract prices for the 2020 crop. Shellers are trying to hold contracts near last year’s contract prices to prevent overplanting. Experts expect more peanuts to be planted this year because of poor market prices for other row crops.
- Already-low prices coupled with less consumption at restaurants, where most catfish is purchased, are impacting farmers’ bottom line.
Horticulture; Greenhouse, Nursery & Sod
- Specialty crop producers have seen increased demand with more consumers at home. U-pick farms have implemented social distancing while still providing fresh produce and on-farm experiences. Farmers markets and retail markets implemented drive-thru and curbside pickup, as well as other social distancing methods.
- Greenhouse and nursery crops were deemed essential during the stay-at-home order, allowing consumers to purchase vegetables, fruit trees and shrubs, ornamental plants and other horticultural supplies. Retail garden centers reported increased demand as consumers purchased crops for home landscaping projects. Federation staff have worked with the American Farm Bureau Federation and congressional delegates to ensure horticulture is considered production agriculture.
- Pork processing faces similar issues as poultry processing due to labor shortages.
- The supply chain remains open as grocers continue to demand products for families.
- Some pork cuts, such as ribs, Boston butts and bacon, have seen an increase in demand as people spend more time cooking at home and consumers transition into summer grilling.
Meat Goat & Sheep
- Retail sales of lamb, which typically double during the Easter holiday, were significantly impacted by restaurant closures.
- Although Alabama farmers have not had to dump milk, the national oversupply resulted in farmers across America discarding their product.
- There are logistical issues in reformatting production lines to bottle more gallons of milk, as opposed to packages for schools or restaurants.
- Hunting and fishing are deemed essential by the state, and the Alabama Department of Conservation & Natural Resources is encouraging use of public lands and lakes.
- Several hunting lodges closed early for the spring turkey season.