Our nation’s economy is being severely challenged during this nationwide Wuhan coronavirus pandemic shutdown.  Not only are people losing their jobs in jaw-dropping, heart-breaking numbers, but businesses big and small are really struggling.

Among these struggling businesses are those in our agriculture sector.  We keep hearing reassurances that our supply chain is strong, that grocery stores are restocking, and at least in my area, this is true.  So far.

But there are signs that the center may not hold if this national/global lockdown continues.  Not only are truckers sounding the alarm, but our nation’s farmers are also struggling.

Vegetable, fruit, dairy, and chicken farmers across the nation have a surplus of produce, milk, eggs, etc. that they are dumping, letting rot, or plowing under due to severely decreased demand from restaurants, schools, etc. closed due to the Wuhan coronavirus shutdowns.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

It was still dark outside at four o’clock on a recent morning when a tanker truck poured 6,000 gallons of milk into a manure pit on Nancy Mueller’s Wisconsin dairy farm.

The milk, collected from Mueller Dairy Farm’s 1,000 cows, should have been hauled to dairy processors across the state for bottling or to be turned into cheese. But the coronavirus pandemic is disrupting all that, closing restaurants and schools that buy the nation’s dairy products—and forcing hard choices for farmers like Mrs. Mueller.

“It was heart-wrenching,” she said.

Farmers and food companies across the country are throttling back production as the virus creates chaos in the agricultural supply chain, erasing sales to restaurants, hotels and cafeterias despite grocery stores rushing to restock shelves. American producers stuck with vast quantities of food they cannot sell are dumping milk, throwing out chicken-hatching eggs and rendering pork bellies into lard instead of bacon.

In part, that is because they can’t easily shift products bound for restaurants into the appropriate sizes, packages and labels necessary for sale at supermarkets. Few in the agricultural industry expect grocery store demand to offset the restaurant market’s steep decline.

Farms are plowing under hundreds of acres of vegetables in prime U.S. growing regions like Arizona and Florida. Chicken companies are shrinking their flocks, to curb supplies that could weigh on prices for months to come.

In Florida, “mounds” of nutrient-rich and delicious zucchini, squash, and tomatoes were left to rot, and in California, mountains of greens, veggies, and fruit were plowed under or left to rot.  In Vermont and Wisconsin, dairy farmers dumped who knows how many gallons of “surplus” milk.

“This is a catastrophe,” said tomato grower Tony DiMare, who owns farms in south Florida and the Tampa Bay area. “We haven’t even started to calculate it. It’s going to be in the millions of dollars. Losses mount every day.”

Florida leads the U.S. in harvesting tomatoes, green beans, cabbage and peppers this time of year. While some of the crops are meant for grocery stores, many farmers cater solely to the so-called food service market — restaurants, schools and theme parks — hit hard as cities and states have ordered people to stay home and avoid others.

The loss has created a domino effect through the farming industry, Florida’s second-largest economic driver. It yields $155 billion in revenue and supports about 2 million jobs.

Many growers have donated produce to food banks, but there’s a limit on what the charities can accept and storage is an issue for perishable fruits and vegetables. DiMare said some central Florida food banks are full after theme parks shuttered and donated massive amounts of produce.

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But there are innovations taking place that are intended to address this travesty and to help both our agriculture sector and our newly unemployed.

For example, in Florida, our agriculture commissioner has generated a frequently-updated “Farm to You” list to help consumers purchase directly from Florida farms.

To help Florida’s farmers stay afloat during this difficult time, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services have created the “Florida Farm To You” commodities list.

The list, which is updated daily, aims to connect potential buyers with producers of Florida-grown commodities, like fresh fruits and veggies, seafood, poultry and other fresh food items.

Buyers, food banks and other consumers looking for a specific item can click here, find and select the agricultural or seafood commodity they’re looking for in the dropdown menu and get contact information for growers offering that item throughout Florida.

Another aspect of this plan, of course, is to promote the buying of U.S. produce, eggs, dairy, etc.

Fried has also asked large retailers, including Publix, Walmart and Whole Foods to stock more Florida-grown commodities in their stores.

“We have worked tirelessly to support Florida’s farmers during COVID-19 by connecting them with buyers and consumers, and our Florida Farm To You commodities list is the latest way we’re doing so,” Fried said. “There’s no silver bullet to solving the decreased demand from foodservice businesses, but by connecting our agricultural producers with willing takers, we can help move Florida-grown products from fields to consumers.”

One of the worrying aspects of the current situation for farmers is that much of the grocery store produce is contracted to foreign suppliers.  This leaves American farmers at a disadvantage.

ABC News reports:

Farmers are scrambling to sell to grocery stores, but it’s not easy. Large chains already have contracts with farmers who grow for retail — many from outside the U.S.

“We can’t even give our product away, and we’re allowing imports to come in here,” DiMare said.

Likewise, much of the back-breaking work of working our nation’s farms has long gone to immigrant laborers.

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But why can’t Americans pick, pack, and ship American agricultural products?

In light of travel restrictions due to the Wuhan coronavirus, the UK has placed a call to its people to enlist in a “land army” to “pick for Britain.”

This is a patriotic (and necessary) call to mobilize the populace to hit the UK’s farms and start getting the job of feeding a nation done.

Farmers are missing 80,000 fruit pickers and factory staff as foreign seasonal workers are banned in the coronavirus crisis.

Experts warned the UK is facing a potential disaster with as much as 3.8million tons of produce set to be dumped.

Unless the country can mobilise to “pick for victory” we are ­facing losing 170million apples, 13.2million pears, 12.4million plums and 288million cherries.

Up to 1.5billion raspberries, 4billion strawberries and 5.2billion blackcurrants could also go.

The closure of chip shops due to the coronavirus lockdown has created a surplus of 188,576 tons of potatoes worth £45.3million.

Rhubarb farmer Janet Oldroyd-Hulme, of West Yorks, said: “We won’t need our foreign workers if the English, Scottish, Irish and Welsh all look to their local farms to help there.”

“Otherwise there will be fruit and vegetables that will rot.”

There is no way that tons of produce, milk, and eggs should be left to rot or to be plowed under due to this coronavirus shutdown.  The U.S. taxpayer should not be called upon to “help” via crazy, bloated, pork-filled bills that are ultimately ineffective and useless.  We can pull together and help our nation’s farmers.

 

 
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