COVID-19’s impact and lessons learned

Dave Bergmeier

One year into COVID-19 much learning and re-learning has gone on throughout food chain and the fiber that connects us together.

In recent weeks our staff has spent significant hours outlining the difference. The March 22 cover story by Field Editor Kylene Scott discussed how veterinarians and farmers and ranchers have worked to keep each other informed about their livestock herds. This week’s cover story by David Murray notes the run-up in soybean prices as markets, most notably China, have seen active buyers as part of upholding Phase One of a trade agreement negotiated by former President Donald Trump’s administration.

Field Editor Lacey Newlin writes this week that margins have been squeezed because of multiple factors. Jason Henderson, from Purdue University, noted that agriculture shows remarkable resilience and will be helped with low interest rates and low inflation rates. However, the margins will continue to be tight. In the past month, Newlin has also included a story about how the redirection of natural gas during the heartland’s “deep freeze” has Oklahoma wheat farmers scrambling as they are about to apply fertilizer.

Swine and cattle prices have shown signs of rebounding; of course, it is too early to predict the nature of those because of the supply of feedstocks (a much higher expense than a year ago because of the rapid increase in grain prices as a result of exports and weather). Most experts have projected the restaurant industry should begin to rebound and that will also help the dairy industry.

We have a ways to go, too.

One of this nation’s achievements in battling the crisis has been the work of meatpacking employees.

The Meat Institute reports that comprehensive protections and testing procedures were put in place among meat and poultry workers. The success of these measures is evident in the numbers they shared. Nearly one year after the first reported cases of COVID-19 among meat and poultry workers, comprehensive protections have brought case rates to just 2.67 cases per day per 100,00 workers—more than 85% lower than rates in the general population and more than 98% lower than the May 2020 peak in the sector when it reached 98.39 cases per day per 100,000 workers.

Meat Institute President and CEO Julie Anna Potts said, “Frontline meat and poultry workers were among the first impacted by the pandemic, but comprehensive protection implemented in the sector since spring 2020 work. The critical next step is to ensure immediate access to vaccines as this dedicated and diverse workforce continues feeding Americans and keeping our farm economy working.”

Companies in many cases have taken the lead with protective devices. Governors in the states where meatpacking is important to agriculture and the overall economy deserve credit for expediting the vaccine process.

As clumsy as it was there is overall optimism, but it will require additional work as people make adjustments. Consumers have continued to enjoy beef and pork while eating at home, along with the uptick in home-baking products. This greater appreciation of agriculture sends a positive message to the marketplace and it is paramount that common sense regulations will continue to spur growth. Farmers and ranchers remain at the core of making sure that occurs.

Dave Bergmeier can be reached at 620-227-1822 or [email protected].