When I started working with farm and ranch families in 1984, we were in the height of the 1980’s debt crisis. The way forward was pretty murky for many of them, who had listened to the “get big or get out” rhetoric spouted by, first U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz, and often repeated by university agricultural experts, agricultural lenders and popular farm publications. Decisions to farm more land, buy bigger equipment and borrow more money based on the inflated value of land that they or their families had owned for years pushed many of the families to the breaking point when crop prices plummeted and interest rates soared. Some were able to weather the storm, others moved on to different occupations, and tragic a few opted to not go on.
Here we are almost forty years later facing an uncertain future brought about by increased competition for what we produce, trade wars, and a virus that is impacting our citizens and economy…Another perfect storm not entirely of our own making. Recently, I’ve had increased calls from farmers and ranchers concerning what they should do to weather this storm. My advice is to take one day at a time, and to not worry about those things over which they have no control. If we overload our thoughts by what might happen, we don’t leave much room for creative thinking about how to keep ourselves and our families healthy, dealing with concrete problems that we face today, and creative planning for tomorrow.
In a recent Farm Journal Pork Business article, Emily Byers, a swine veterinarian with Prestage Farms offered three tips to help people improve their well being. Her advice included 1. Eat well and be active, 2. Practice positivity, and 3. Find your tribe. Here is a link to the article: https://www.porkbusiness.com/article/take-care-you-3-simple-tips-get-your-health-track
At this point, it’s difficult to determine what is the long range impact coronavirus outbreak will have on farmers and ranchers. CoBank, a national cooperative bank that serves industries across rural America, recently observed that with most Americans staying home, they estimate that consumers are purchasing 90% of their food at supermarkets, compared to the usual 48%. They also point out that demand for beef is down, while demand for chicken, a component of many home-cooked meals, is up.
Market reports show that the price of boneless, skinless chicken breasts soared during March, and although demand for beef and pork in grocery stores has been high, meat processors are being forced to slow down or halt production at some plants as workers get sick, or stay home for fear of contracting the coronavirus. Reports indicate that major meat packers like JBS USA and Tyson Foods have temporarily shut down facilities over the past couple of weeks. Dairy producers have been affected too, partly because, with schools closed across the nation, children aren’t drinking as much milk and some shoppers may be reluctant to stock up on a product that has a somewhat short shelf life, and to deal with loss of demand some dairy farms are dumping milk.
In early March, the USDA lowered its forecasts for market prices of cattle, hogs, broiler chickens, and turkeys due to weak prices and large supplies, although per capita meat consumption was forecast at 227.4 pounds this year, the highest ever and nearly 8 pounds more than in 2018. Analysts also concluded that the pandemic could stall a recovery in U.S. farm income this year. But a bright spot is that farmland values continue to be strong.
American cartoonist and creator of the comic strip Peanuts, Charles M. Schulz said, “ I have a new philosophy. I’m only going to dread one day at a time.”