The coronavirus could lead to $20 billion in losses this year for the U.S. agricultural sector, a University of Missouri report projects.
The agricultural economy was originally expected to grow 2.8% this year but now is expected to drop 2.2% compared to 2019, resulting in a 5% decline from the forecast, reported St. Louis Post-Dispatch (April 14). The effects to farmers stretch “pretty much across the board,” according to Pat Westhoff, a professor and director of the school’s Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute, which produced the report.
The report noted that, even if it proves temporary, shifting from a world where a significant share of food is consumed in restaurants to one where far more food is consumed at home may require changes in food processing and distribution that may come with additional costs.
Impact varies from product to product, but the loss of key buyers such as restaurants and schools, are leading to falling prices for many commodities, from crops to livestock.
Low prices have driven some farmers to destroy products such as milk and eggs, or to not harvest crops of vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are being plowed over or left to rot on thousands of acres in Florida as the coronavirus shuts down normal customers, including restaurants, theme parks, and schools, reported The Ledger (April 8).
Farmers report zucchini, yellow squash, tomatoes, green beans, cabbage, and peppers are among the lost crops, and although many donated to food banks, there are limits on what they can take in among the perishable products.
Other states have the same issues as agriculture officials said leafy greens in California are hit especially hard, and dairy farmers in Florida, Vermont, and Wisconsin said they had to dump a surplus of milk intended for restaurants.
However, it is not only low prices as food production, processing, and shipment are all affected, according to Westhoff. For example, worker illnesses caused recent meatpacking plant closures and issues for livestock producers like hog farmers.
The U.S. pork producers are asking the Trump administration to consider buying large quantities of meat, as processors are forced to close facilities due to the pandemic, reported CNN (April 15).
Meat processing plant closures are threatening more than just the supply of meat on the market; experts say they are also threatening the farmers who could soon have more cows, pigs, or other animals on their hands than they can afford to feed or house.
“You see pig values plummet significantly, so for many of our farmers, right now it costs more to care for the animal than the value of the hog,” said Jim Monroe, a spokesperson for the National Pork Producers Council. “So our farmers are in a dire situation.”