January 22, 2022
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Farming During a Global Pandemic
The past two years have been a time that none of us are likely to forget. Life looks a little different for most people due to the global impacts COVID-19 has had. Wearing masks in public and distancing ourselves from strangers, and in some cases, even members of our own families to “keep them safe,” has become a norm. It is now a common practice to wait in lines outside of stores due to limited capacity restrictions and order food for curbside pick-up to go rather than dining in.
Fortunately, some things have not changed. Farmers, ranchers, and all of those charged with maintaining a healthy food supply for their families and communities, never stopped, heck, they didn’t even slow down in most cases. Rather, the men and women who farm the land and tend the livestock around you probably put in more hours and made more sacrifices than ever before. Farm businesses sought out alternative means of distribution; delivering meals, hosting milk drives, and continuing to provide wholesome goods to their neighbors.
In the initial stages of the pandemic, when schools shut down and hospitals were becoming overwhelmed, Americans began to panic. Toilet paper wasn’t the only thing to be flying off the shelves. This panic caused many to stockpile cleaning products, bathing essentials, and food. The most common meats consumed in the United States, beef, chicken, and pork, were quickly out of stock in most grocery stores. Stores began limiting the number of items individuals could buy. Unfortunately, in many places, as demand increased, so did the prices.
Livestock farmers and ranchers struggled to keep up with the inquiries they received for their products because of the limited availability in stores. Animals can only grow to finish so fast. For example, it takes a beef animal approximately 20 months to be ready for harvest. There isn't any way around that timeline. Beef, poultry, and pork producers struggled to maintain enough mature animals to meet demands. In addition, it was a struggle to find processing opportunities for the finished livestock.
Livestock processing plants fought to keep up with the influx of orders. With increased demand, and a limited number of employees working, the plants ran as much as they could. Even today, two years later, the large and small processing facilities are having a hard time finding employees to work enough hours to meet demand. All of these factors have led to the increase in prices that we still see in grocery stores nationwide.
For most farms, the daily work hasn’t changed, however, where and how their products are distributed has been altered. Schools and restaurants were the primary buyers of fluid milk and cheese in most regions of the U.S. not so long ago. When these establishments were closed for months at a time, the demand for dairy decreased. Dairy farmers across NY attempted to help their community members receive dairy products while at home. Many farmers with an online presence shared creative ways to store and preserve dairy, too. Despite their efforts, worried consumers chose to buy fewer perishable items, financially hurting a lot of farms.
Today, farms, like many other industries, seem to be on the mend. Thankfully, Americans have found ways of coping and staying safe during the pandemic. The initial fears have dissipated, and consumers are again buying dairy products at increasing rates as cooking from home has become more popular. Farmers who have endured the pandemic are finally seeing more promising returns on their goods.
This continuing pandemic has brought to light the fact that farmers are, and always have been, essential. As universities, hair salons, restaurants, and countless other businesses stopped all operations and services, farms never closed their doors. Farmers and their teams continue to work, day after day to produce safe and nutritious food for their communities and beyond.