COVID-19 has disrupted our lives and caused a change in the way we go about our lives. Today I want to talk about the impact that it is having on agriculture. Every one of us must eat, making agriculture one of the most important sectors of our economy. Agriculture is the number one industry in Georgia. It contributes over $70 billion dollars to Georgia’s economy annually. One in 7 Georgians work in agriculture, forestry, or a related field. COVID-19 has certainly disrupted supply chains and affected the way that agriculture operates.
Farmers are still hard at work. COVID-19 has not changed that. And as long as people need to eat, farmers will continue to be hard at work to meet that need. What has been changed is the supply chains to get food from farmers to your plate. Over the years, Americans have become more and more removed from the farmer that puts food on their plate. To meet the increased demand for food, complex systems to get the food from farmer to plate have arisen. I’ll try to explain some of these food chains, and what you can do in response.
The meat industry has been hit hard, as you can tell from what’s available on the shelves at the grocery store. Most meat goes through a handful of processing plants. If one of those plants has to close due to infection that has a cascading effect on the availability throughout the country. There is also an effect on the farmers because, the product that they had planned to ship may not have anywhere to go if the processor has shut down. Holding onto livestock longer means more costs for a farmer to feed. Distribution centers for produce may be forced to temporarily shut down if they have personnel with COVID-19. These shutdowns can also create a cascading effect throughout the country.
You have probably seen stories of farmers dumping milk or other products. That’s because there has been a major shift in where Americans purchase agricultural products. Products are still being produced, but the demand to bring products to schools, hotels, restaurants, and other places has been reduced or eliminated. That means in some cases, the product has to be disposed of at a loss.
So, what can we do? Unfortunately, in the imperfect world that we live in, there are no perfect answers. Grocery stores will continue to have produce and meat, but not in the quantity that we have grown accustomed to. The best thing that you can do is to buy locally or regionally grown/raised as much as possible. Talk with your family and neighbors about buying an animal ‘on the hoof’ and taking it to a local processor. Some of our local farmers have stores at their farm. That way you can buy directly from the farmer, and have fresh products. Shop at the Farmers Market. Products sold at the farmers market come straight from the farm. You can also start your own garden. If you have questions about how to do that, ask me. There are few things more rewarding than eating produce that you have grown.
If you have questions about where to find local agricultural products contact your County Extension Office or email me at Jacob.Williams@uga.edu.