The warm weather has finally arrived! One hundred degree days and cool nights should have the melons, wheat, cotton and Sudan grass growing happily. What an amazing time we are all living through. Decisions are being made on a daily basis depending on the latest information rather than following a somewhat “normal” pattern that we are all used to. Actually, it is kind of like we are all finding out how difficult it is for those in agriculture to make decisions each year to be successful.
All of the food, fiber and livestock crops being grown are dependent on being able to sell what is produced. As the pandemic proceeds, all farmers and ranchers are caught with the amount of crops or critters they would normally have at this time of year. The problem is that demand for many products has dropped more than 60% since March 1. In addition, with people in lockdown, the number of shoppers is greatly reduced. Add to the mix the fact that many workers have lost their jobs or have reduced hours reducing income. Food buying patterns have greatly changed for many families.
The news shows have been highlighting the numerous crops that are being destroyed because there is no market. Fresh produce particularly has a limited shelf life and when it is ready to be picked, it needs to be harvested. A week later doesn’t work because produce loses quality the longer it sits in the field. The hot topic now is beef, poultry, and pork. Since animal producers had no idea a pandemic was on the way, their production was designed for a normal year. In addition, animals need to be processed before the meat gets to the consumer and many of the plants that do that work are shut down for lack of healthy workers. Like with produce, the age of the animals at harvest is important to the quality of the meat produced. Costs also continue to accrue as animals are held beyond the normal feeding schedule. It has been suggested by those in charge that the existing inventory just be destroyed to reduce supply. As soon as the news was released, the hoarding of beef, pork and chicken began
The problem is not that there is a shortage of any of these commodities, there is plenty of food to feed our country, but the shutdown of processing facilities is crippling the industry. In addition, imports of meat products, from across the world is continuing to the detriment of our economy. It really makes no sense at all.
With our year round agriculture in Yuma County and the more than 180 crops that we can successfully grow, what do our agricultural producers plan for the 2020-21 growing season? Do we fall back to more acres of traditional crops like grains, cotton, and forage crops that can be stored until the markets are better? It is probably not practical with the huge investment that has been made in vegetable production infrastructure and support industries. Besides, we grow vegetables better than anyone else in the world. It is what we do.
I do not believe that any of us have gone through times like these in their lifetime. I hope the next generation never has to.
Bobbi Stevenson-McDermott is a retired soil and water conservationist. She can be reached at email@example.com.