Texas farmers, ranchers answer the call during COVID-19 outbreak
By Russell Boening
Texas Farm Bureau President
Texas farmers and ranchers are in a unique position in regard to the COVID-19 outbreak and our nation’s response.
Each of us is battling the impacts of the pandemic on our own farm or ranch, while at the same time, committing ourselves to feeding our country at a time when food security matters most.
The hardships created by the virus add to an already difficult year for Texas agriculture. But one thing is certain. Americans do not have to fear a decrease in the safety and security of the U.S. food supply.
Agriculture was named a critical industry by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security amid the coronavirus outbreak. The announcement allows those in the food and agriculture supply chain to continue operating to meet the demand across the nation. The declaration covers farmers, food processors and producers, distributors and retailers.
Farm Bureau has been actively engaged on issues associated with COVID-19 in an effort to minimize its impacts to agriculture.
We’re concerned about the number of companies adopting social distancing policies, per health directives, that could significantly impact processing plants and supply chains. Meat packing plants, dairy processors, ethanol plants and other processing facilities all play roles in delivering the food and fuel consumers depend on, especially now during this pandemic.
Disruptions in supply chains could also mean less access to seed, fertilizer and crop protection tools that we, as farmers and ranchers, rely on to grow crops and feed livestock.
Farm Bureau asked for livestock haulers and other trucks carrying food to receive emergency waivers for hours of service, so those folks can get food and supplies where it’s needed, as quickly as possible.
We are concerned about possible livestock market manipulation and are urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to monitor the situation. I have visited with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and other top USDA officials about this concern, and they are fully aware of the issue. TFB recently joined 25 other state Farm Bureaus asking Secretary Perdue to explore all options within his authority to provide relief to cattle ranchers impacted by pandemic.
Growers of fresh produce are worried about possible dumping of products from other countries.
USDA and other federal agencies should assist farmers and ranchers by taking measures to maintain stable and fair markets during this time. Price forecasts for most agricultural products are bleak. Dairy prices have dropped 26-36 percent, corn futures have dropped by 14 percent and cotton futures have plummeted 31 percent. Despite a rise in retail beef prices in some areas, the prices paid to cattle ranchers have fallen 25 percent.
Texas Farm Bureau members are concerned about labor, especially since the U.S.-Mexico border was impacted. We are working with members of Congress and the U.S. State Department to address labor issues that are critical to farm and ranch families. We’re pleased the U.S. State Department has announced a commitment to processing H-2A program applications to ensure an agricultural workforce.
Add impacts from the virus to trade, farmer and rancher health and federal inspections to the list, and the scale and scope of the problem become evident. The impacts are real and serious for those of us producing food, fiber and fuel.
Times like this remind all of us of the importance of ensuring our nation’s food security. We must protect it. And I know our Texas farmers and ranchers are committed to doing so.