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Worries and Routines

Worries and Routines

A recent survey of Kansas Ag Alliance members reveals the economic turmoil wrought by Covid-19 on the state’s farmers, ranchers and ag retailers. The survey was conducted in late May. Responses came from a broad spectrum of growers and other agriculturally related businesses across the state.

The survey went to members of statewide associations representing corn, sorghum, soybeans, wheat, livestock, electrical cooperatives and Kansas Farm Bureau.

More than two-thirds of respondents reported negative or very negative effects on their farm or business as a result of the pandemic. Less than 10 percent reported a positive impact on farm or business revenue.

The top three issues for respondents are what you would expect, disrupted markets, cashflow problems and not being able to find a place to process products. But there are some other concerns, like one cattle producer who also shoes horses.

“With the horse shows, rodeos and barrel races canceled, it has hurt my business because clients are trimming more and shoeing less,” the farrier reported. “So, a $140 shoeing turns into a $50 trim.”

The disruption to markets is widespread in the cattle industry, and the slowdown of packing plants has filtered down to smaller custom processors, which has caused another set of headaches.

“Direct sales to the consumer is our preferred method of marketing our beef,” one rancher said. “With the bottleneck in small, overwhelmed processing facilities, we are unable to process our animals in a timely manner, which means they have to go through the sale barn at a lower price.” 

Others are seeing a slow down in the normal course of business because of the virus.

“Most suppliers I deal with are scared to death they will have a positive employee and have to close their facility,” one grower wrote. “This leads to very inefficient interaction with the businesses. We are getting through it, but it has taken a lot more planning to get things in place.”

Ninety percent of responses indicate they’ve taken advantage of at least one Covid-19-related government program, like the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, Paycheck Protection Program or received an Economic Injury Disaster Loan. These programs fall short of making farmers and ranchers whole from the economic disruption from the pandemic, but there’s growing unease about the scale of government support of agriculture. Especially following on the heels of recent Market Facilitation Payments.

“My main concern is that if we don’t find an exit strategy for these government programs, we will be plunging further into socialism,” one respondent remarked.

Others voiced concerns about how commodity markets will respond as the pandemic drags on and wondered if input costs will go down. Cellular phone service and access to broadband internet also are on the minds of farmers and ranchers who saw their children return home after schools and colleges closed.

The disparity between what producers receive and consumers pay also drew plenty of comments, none more succinct than one respondent who said, “It has exposed the total disconnect between farm gate prices and grocery store prices.”

None of the responses are earthshaking, but they do provide a good reminder of just how far the misery has spread across the countryside.

Despite all the new things to worry about, one farmer recently told me not much has changed in his daily routine.

“Get up, feed everything in the morning, harvest, bale hay, just like normal,” he said.

There can be solace found in a job well done.