American Farm Bureau has released its first assessment of the impact on farmers and ranchers in the wake of the national mitigation efforts to combat COVID-19.
In a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, AFBF President Zippy Duvall pledged that “America’s farmers and ranchers will be with you every step of the way, doing all that we can to help you win this fight and to ensure the health, safety and prosperity of all America.” USDA invited Farm Bureau to convey agricultural issues or concerns arising as the pandemic mitigation efforts and impact advance. Duvall said labor, supply chain issues and possible price manipulation topped the list of immediate issues farmers are raising with the national organization.
The letter, which will be updated as new issues materialize, outlines concerns from Farm Bureau members across the country as national and local leaders take action to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and protect public health.
With the State Department’s announcement to suspend all processing of new, non-emergency visa applications in Mexico, U.S. farms and ranches could face a serious labor shortage at a critical time for planting and harvesting crops essential to the domestic food supply. U.S agriculture depends on more than a quarter-million H-2A workers every year, and Farm Bureau is calling on the Administration to find a safe measure to ensure these skilled workers can come to our farms and ranches. AFBF along with members of the Agriculture Workforce Coalition also sent a letter to Secretary of State Pompeo to address these concerns.
“As companies adopt social distancing policies in keeping with health directives, this mode of work could have a significant impact on the processing plants that drive America’s supply chain,” Duvall wrote. Meat packing plants, dairy processors, ethanol plants and other processing facilities all play vital roles in delivering the food and fuel Americans will continue to depend on in the long days ahead. Additional impacts could include access to seed, fertilizer and crop protection tools farmers need to grow a healthy crop. In addition to calling for close monitoring of potential shutdowns or reduced hours at these facilities, Farm Bureau is also requesting that the current FMCSA Emergency Declaration waiver to hours of service for food transportation be expanded to address the full agricultural supply chain.
Maintaining stable and fair markets is especially critical at times like these. Duvall noted concerns from livestock producers regarding market manipulation and urged USDA to monitor the situation to protect ranchers and consumers alike from price manipulation. For many livestock producers, FSA loan payments are due “now,” and producers may need temporary relief such as deferment or loan adjustment to help respond to the impact on livestock markets. (To illustrate this challenge, it is noteworthy that on Tuesday, before the market rose, cattle and hog futures prices were down nearly 30%.)
In the fresh produce market, growers have expressed concerns regarding possible dumping of products from other countries. “USDA should work with the appropriate Federal agencies in ensuring U.S. farmers are not unfairly disadvantaged during this unique period,” Duvall wrote.
Duvall also noted USDA’s unique role in urging rural America to take all the prescribed measures to “flatten the curve” and reduce the spread of COVID-19, and thanked Secretary Perdue for his leadership in addressing the crisis facing agriculture and rural America. “We applaud your leadership and commitment and stand ready to work with you as our nation meets this unique challenge.”