COVID-19 pandemic and agriculture: two years later

As ice and snow melt in the American fields on a cold February day, farmers and their neighbors wonder when relief might occur. But in 2022 – now two years after the COVID-19 pandemic virus began to freeze the world’s markets – it is more than the warmer weather that will bring relief.

In accordance with Ag Economics Barometer from Purdue University-CME Group Report released on February 1, manufacturers across the country remain concerned about rising costs and supply chain disruptions. A sentiment index calculated monthly using 400 U.S. agricultural producers surveyed by telephone, the Agricultural Economy Barometer fell six points in February to 119. This is the second lowest value since July 2020, when it was 118, to unlike 153 in the previous July and January 2017 before that.

Purdue Group / CME Ag Economics Barometer, October 2015-January 2022

Meanwhile, rural communities across the country are also showing “blahs” when it comes to polls on everything from politics to social issues. And, all fingers point to COVID-19. Two years later, the effects of the pandemic still persist. But in the midst of consternation, there are indeed bright rays of real progress, not only in improved health care networks, but also in the growing opportunities for distance work and career opportunities. While inflation and a lack of labor frustrate producers and producers, it’s a great time to sell a house and find a job.

Tabby Flinn, educator for agriculture and natural resources extension for Purdue Extension in Vigo county, Indiana, agreed that much has changed in the last two years. Some changes have been problematic and yet some have improved. In the meantime, their farming community has been actively involved in supporting both producers and the rural communities in which they serve all the time.

Purdue University, in partnership with the Indiana State Department of Agriculture and the Indiana Rural Health Association, is sponsoring an innovative series called Healthy Minds, Healthy Lives Mental Health Workshops. Designed to raise awareness and reduce the stigma associated with mental health in the agricultural industry, the 23 free one-day workshops, organized by experts in the field, began on February 10 and will run until July.

Flinn also noted that Purdue University Extension Service has offered a series of dynamic podcasts. Tools for today’s farmer: navigating uncertain timeswith features such as Defeating the winter blue and Overcoming Adversity – Never give up.

Both programs are part of a concerted effort to metaphorically throw the judo of the opponent who was COVID-19 in a positive direction.

Impact in the Heartland

Voters in Vigo County have the distinction of electing the US president correctly in every election between 1956 and 2020, when the run ended as the county ran for current Republican President Donald Trump in place of the Democratic challenger, now President Joe. Biden. With a population of approximately 107,000, the county is served by Terre Haute as its headquarters and hosts Indiana State University, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College and Ivy Tech Community College. . Located on Indiana’s western border with Illinois, along Interstate 70, about 168 miles northeast of St. Louis, 75 miles southwest of Indianapolis, is the middle of rural America, surrounded by farmers and their land. All in all, a solid sample of rural America and the farmers who make it what it is.

Vigo County Court in Terre Haute, Indiana (Image by Roberto Galan, Shutterstock)

When asked how the pandemic changed agricultural production and which of those changes were temporary and probably changed the final field, Flinn said regulations played an important factor.

The producers remember well how, in March 2019, they were preparing to hit the fields for planting. And then came the quarantine talks. Before the soybeans were planted, the United States was under blockade. Suddenly, the lobbies of the banks and the supply stores were closed, the children on the farm and those in the city alike were taking classes through Zoom, and masks were needed almost everywhere. This created a big problem with the supply of supplies, as many employees simply stayed at home.

In the meantime, farmers have always worked remotely from the farm, so production has continued.

“Every year there is always a shortage of truck drivers,” Flinn said, noting that it was significantly worse during this time. This demand for truck drivers continues today, as the labor shortage increases. Flinn said some producers pay up to $ 1,000 for a short shipment of grain. With the supply chain tight, the parts and trucks themselves were missing – and to a large extent, this continues.

In addition, farmers have become familiar with new products and suppliers to replace those that are unavailable. And that can be a great thing, she said. Salespeople and farmers alike have had to find ways to get the job done, and that will continue.

And while everyone in the world has had to deal with the pandemic, everyone has treated it differently. The problem was certainly felt differently in cities, as opposed to suburbs and rural areas, Flinn agreed.

“It certainly had a different impact on our rural communities than our suburban or urban ones,” she said, noting that Vigo County offers a dynamic combination of Terre Haute as a regional hub city surrounded by more rural and suburban communities.

Due to the significantly lower population density, the virus did not spread as fast as in large metropolitan centers. With approximately 265 people per square mile in Vigo County according to the US census, the neighbor near Clay County has 75 per square mile, and in Parke County there are only 39 per square mile. Lots of space and outdoor space compared to the 3,200 people per square mile in Cook County in Chicago or 29,303 per square mile in New York City.

Image by Gerry Dincher, Flickr

Of course, farmers usually spend a lot of time on their own operations, but even in cities, there are simply fewer people coagulated together. This has made the implementation of wearing a mask a bit of a struggle in some cases, but overall the spread of the virus has been slower due to less contact. However, one of the challenges to living in rural areas is fewer health care options. In this regard, Flinn said that many communities, such as Vigo County, have made extraordinary leaps with rural health initiatives. With two hospitals in Vigo County and a number of partner clinics in the area, access has been and remains better than in previous years.

“Our rural communities have returned a little faster than our suburban or urban communities because of the lower population density,” she said.

Due to the sudden shock to the country as a result of the pandemic, these partners and healthcare companies have taken significant steps in partnerships that will continue long after the virus is under control.

“I think it has certainly changed the landscape, not necessarily for the worse, but maybe for the better,” she said, noting that the Spanish flu of 1918 also provided a global learning experience for mass pandemics.

Another major change that is likely to become commonplace in the future is work from home. With almost a year of schooling and homework, many technologies and acquisitions will remain in place, as people accept this as the new normal.

Anyone involved in agriculture knows that the 2021 harvest season has been a riddle for producers, with great prices equaling record costs, and the additional shortage of supplies and machinery has only fueled the problem. The challenges of the supply chain related to COVID and the lack of workers have mixed with the increase in demand related to the weather to produce a truly unique season.

“It was a bit of both,” Flinn said. Grain elevators had trouble entering trains to transport grain, and the truckers themselves were hard to find. “It was almost impossible to find people to lead across the country.”

Image by Dusan Petkovic, Shutterstock

Price hikes and associated inflation set by the phenomenon are likely to last until 2023, Flinn said. Experts predict that over the next two years, the agricultural sector will continue to face labor shortages, supply and price problems. If the weather is good and crops continue to grow, farmers should be fine, she said. But if producers have a bad year, such as 2012, and yields are low, food prices could be a problem for the whole country when coupled with additional costs.

But within four to six years, the rural sector and communities should return to a sense of normalcy, and in the meantime landowners are seeing great benefits from rising cash rents for their land and retiring farmers. strong to rent. lands and drives trucks for others.

Tough Row to Hoe

The last two years have been at least interesting and it looks like the next two could be just as challenging. Conformable the Purdue pollsupply chain concerns among farmers include more than just cars and buildings. With 57 percent expecting agricultural input prices to rise by 20 percent or more in 2022, 34 percent expect prices to rise by 30 percent or more. Also in January, 28 percent of producers surveyed reported difficulties in purchasing crop inputs from suppliers for the 2022 vegetation season. The price of anhydrous ammonia in Illinois in January 2022 was almost triple that of January 2021, and 27% are expected. to increase their farm’s operating loan this year. About 69 percent attributed this to the price of inputs.

But in the end, the real harvest could be the lessons learned from the pandemic and the new technologies that are emerging to combat it. Farmers, always innovative, will come up with new ways to deal with prices as in previous years. But there is no doubt that even in the years to come, people will continue to talk about the impact that COVID-19 has had on agriculture in America.

Brian Boyce is an award-winning writer who lives on a farm in central western Indiana. You can see more of his work at

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