PALMYRA, Mo. | Farmers and ranchers in Northeast Missouri have been busy working in the fields to prepare for crops and raising livestock, but the COVID-19 pandemic has created significant challenges in several sectors of the agricultural industry.
The $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security bill signed into law by President Donald Trump on March 27 includes measures to keep supply chains consistent for food delivery and $9.5 billion in funding for the United States Department of Agriculture for the livestock, dairy and specialty crop markets, although exactly how the money will be divided up isn't clear yet. On April 2, U.S. Senators Roy Blunt and Josh Hawley of Missouri and U.S. Rep. Sam Graves, R-Tarkio, Mo., joined 142 lawmakers in sending a letter to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue requesting immediate support for cattle producers.
“The COVID-19 outbreak has demonstrated the need for domestic food security,” the members of Congress wrote. “All farmers and ranchers are vital to our country's ability to keep food on the table in a future pandemic or related crisis, and many producers, including young producers, are often highly leveraged and cannot fall back on years of equity in a time of crisis. As such, we urge you to quickly deliver relief to producers as we work to lessen the economic impact of this pandemic.”
Kenny and Janet Lovelace operate a cattle farm outside of Palmyra. Kenny Lovelace said beef prices were up for a bit during a temporary shortage of meat during response to the coronavirus pandemic, but prices are low again at a time when farmers and ranchers are hoping to sell feeder calves.
“I'm kind of anxious to see what happens today on numbers and price,” Lovelace said. “I just hope these prices get up to where these farmers and ranchers can sell their feeder calves and get a good price for them, because you work all winter and all summer — everybody's out there now trying to save every calf they can.”
Lovelace said some fellow farmers have lost calves and heifers and he talked with a friend in the Chillicothe area who just lost a cow. When the prices are higher, farmers can sell the cattle and lessen those situations, Lovelace said.
Fellow farmer and Marion County Farm Bureau President Joe Kendrick said the federal CARES bill offered opportunities for farmers affected by the pandemic, but he said it remained to be seen how many farmers would take advantage of the assistance. Since there aren't specific provisions to allocate the funding or determine if the USDA Market Facilitation Program would continue to help strengthen agricultural commodity markets, Kendrick stressed there were a lot of details that were still “in limbo.”
“I still think at this point, there's a lot of uncertainty as to how the programs are going to work and what the actual eligibility lines are going to be,” Kendrick said.
Kendrick said China “really hadn't started to honor” the first phase of the trade agreement with the U.S. when the virus first broke out, and he anticipated the current pandemic would prolong the delay in trade. He also said low oil prices have drastically affected the ethanol market, with some ethanol plants sitting idle or cutting back on production. Some others have switched to producing sanitizer products to help with the pandemic response. And he said corn-based ethanol isn't just for food — byproducts of the process are the most affordable livestock feed option next to grass.
Lovelace and Kendrick both noted that everyone is keeping a close eye on the COVID-19 pandemic, but the work on the farm is moving ahead with the same dedication and planning as in past years.
Lovelace is beginning the fertilization process on his farm, and Kendrick has already planted some corn during the recent warm weather. Kendrick said farmers and ranchers across Northeast Missouri are buying agricultural products and are busy getting their fields fertilized and planting certain crops.
Lovelace said the pandemic has negatively impacted funerals, weddings and other parts of everyday life, but people have been joining together like never before to help each other out and find new solutions for various challenges.
“One thing I do believe, and I hope I'm right, I think when this thing gets over, and kind of gets everybody back on their wheels — I think the economy will just explode,” Lovelace said.