Farmers brace for the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic

Published: Apr. 20, 2020 at 5:18 PM CDT
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After a long, stressful 2019, farmers hoped 2020 would be a bounce back year. But now, the coronavirus pandemic is just the next hurdle farmers face in a laundry list of challenges.

For South Dakota Farm Bureau President Scott VanderWal, 2019 couldn't end fast enough.

Because of widespread flooding last spring and fall, VanderWal wasn't sure how his fields would look this year, but to his surprise they seem to be drying out nicely.

"Where I'm at, in east-central South Dakota, west of Brookings, things look tremendously better than last year," VanderWal said. "Last year at this time, we were covered with snow, we were dealing with snow storms, I think one had just ended in fact, and we had all the flooding ahead of us yet."

Doug Sombke, President of the South Dakota Farmers Union, says while there are still some trouble spots to the north and west, conditions to the south and east look pretty good.

"We've got a lot of preparation to do with the last fall being so late and so wet, there's a lot of tracks out in the field yet from the last harvest, so there's a lot of work to be done," Sombke said.

As for COVID-19, VanderWal says, since farming and ranching are socially distant professions, many are still able to proceed with work as usual, where the pandemic is really hurting them is in the markets.

"Corn has dropped $1.25 a bushel, so if you're selling right now that's quite a hit," VanderWal said. "It's not so much that people don't want it, but it's the fact that the processors are geared mainly toward food service. A lot of the beef and pork is served that way, and all of a sudden that switched when people had to start working from home, and everything had to go to the grocery stores."

Sombke says the coming months are going to be tough, but that one of the best ways you can help out farmers right now is to buy local.

"I think the economy will come back fairly quickly, but it takes all the pieces, and when one part falters it drags everybody else down, and in this case it's no fault of anybody in the United States, it's just something that happened, but we've got to get that economy going again," VanderWal said.

Sombke says of the most important things to remember is that there is no evidence the virus can be transmitted through our food. So, you can rest assured that farmers will continue to do all they can to keep our supply chain moving.