Will COVID-19 Take Away Our Food?
Updated: Oct 18, 2021
Food is one of the most basic needs for life; as such, agribusiness, the business of food production is vital to both people and the economy as it provides access to such a basic need and supports development through food markets. With the coronavirus outbreak, several agriculture businesses have been facing severe losses. However, more recently the aid and support towards agribusiness have improved the health of farmers and helped recover the loss of profit.
Due to COVID-19, agribusiness has faced two major issues: loss of profits in markets and the lack of farmers to grow crops. Crop prices dropping in the markets and businesses closing down are the two main factors contributing to the severe loss of profits in agribusiness. For example, by April itself, the price of milk reduced by 40% from January, and the prices of ethanol, corn, and cotton dropped 20% – 40%. In addition, the price of beef and chicken hit its all-time low in April; the severity of the pandemic begs into question whether prices will be rising anytime soon. Because of these price drops, farmers and agribusinesses are unable to make profits off their crops, especially in major farming states. According to a study by the Center of Agriculture and Rural Development (CARD) at Iowa State University, the pandemic could lead to a loss of $2 billion in the ethanol and hog sectors each, $34 million in the cattle sector, $213 million in the soybean sector, and $788 million in the corn sector, in Iowa, a state where agribusiness is extremely prominent. Additionally, the agricultural economy could encounter losses of $3.7 billion in Nebraska, another major midwestern farming state. These steep losses of money can eventually lead to farmers quitting their jobs and businesses closing down, slowly resulting in the lack of essential food production.
The coronavirus caused several food-based businesses to close down. All of Los Angeles’ 130 farmers’ markets faced closures. Now, the mayor of the city is only allowing 24 to open back up. Besides Los Angeles, Seattle also shut down its farmers’ markets and Miluwakee has shut down several restaurants. Additionally, some popular fast-food chains and restaurants have closed some of their franchised businesses. For example, Ruby Tuesday shut down 147 businesses out of the 500 businesses they still have running because of the pandemic. Other restaurants and fast-food chains that have closed down temporarily and run the risk of closing down permanently are Red Robin, Applebee’s, Steak ‘n Shake, TGI Friday’s, El Pollo Loco, and Dave & Buster’s. With the closure of restaurants, fast foods, and markets, agribusinesses who supply these businesses are also losing revenue.
However, it is not just the loss of profits that are negatively impacting agribusinesses and farmers. Ever since the coronavirus began, there has been a lack of farmworkers in agribusiness. Many migrant farmers and workers in the US come from Mexico, especially in the spring. Because of the pandemic’s travel restrictions, farmers from Mexico are not allowed to come to America, which results in a lack of labor for US farmers and agribusinesses. Moreover, agriculture workers have one of the highest rates of suicide; in comparison to urban residents, agriculture workers and rural residents are also more susceptible to suffer from respiratory issues, which can be deadly due to their lack of quick access to hospitals.
To help farmers come to America from other parts of the world, the government created the H-2A program, which was approved by the Immigration Nationality Act (INA). The program enables certain foreign people to perform temporary and seasonal agriculture jobs in the U.S.. Through this program, the nation’s food supply is being protected and many farmers can earn money. Currently, around 20% of farmers and ranchers that are located in America come through the H-2A program.
To address the adverse impact of the coronavirus on agribusinesses, the government and several other organizations are providing aid and improving several aspects of the business. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations plans to generate and improve food security information and analysis, as well as provide smallholder farmworkers with tools, crops, seeds, gardening kits, meat, money, and other resources. Similarly, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) provided $16 billion to provide relief for farmers and ranchers through the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP), a program that provides financial assistance to agriculture workers. In addition to the CFAP, the USDA is investing $1.6 billion on electric infrastructure in rural areas for 21 states. The USDA has been a regular supplier and supporter of all farmers and agricultural economies; the CFAP and the investment of $1.6 billion are just a few of their contributions to the agribusiness industry.
Along with receiving aid and support from numerous organizations, farmers and agribusiness workers are also able to spend more time with their crops and discover new farming methods. In an interview with Lakshmi Narasimha Rao Gudur, a farmer in India who grows food for his family, Gudur talks about how he was able to “discover and research faster ways to grow [his] tomatoes.” Gudur also said that quarantine was a blessing in disguise to him; if he were not in quarantine, then he “would not have had as much time to play around and experiment with [his] crops.” Instead, he would be “more engaged in [his] other things to do – things that are unrelated to farming.”
Overall, the coronavirus has had its terrible impacts on farmers and agribusiness. Now, however, things in the industry seem to be looking forward to recovery.
Through Teen Lenses: Why do you think agribusiness is important? How do you think COVID-19 is affecting it?
“In the news, I have heard about many restaurants and markets closing down because of the virus. As of what I know, these restaurants have suppliers who supply them vegetable and fruit crops, dairy products, and more. If these restaurants and markets close down then I’d assume that many of the suppliers, who are usually farming businesses, would lose a lot of profits. After all, agribusiness is important for our food. Without farmers, we technically can’t live.” Karyssa Pete, 16, Rising Junior at Thomas S. Wootton High School, Rockville, MD
“Agriculture business is important because it provides us with primary resources that are needed for other industry’s product production. COVID-19 is definitely affecting business. They have become more conscious about how they handle their practices and if it is actually safe or not. That has resulted in lower efficiency or some farms even being shut down.” Rhea Goswami, 15, Rising Junior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Alexandria, VA
“I believe that agribusiness is important because many people in today’s society don’t know how to grow their own produce, so instead people who have the knowledge on how to grow produce can provide us with the food that we need to survive. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are stocking up on food items, such as produce and meat. The empty shelves at grocery stores might give the impression that agribusiness is doing much better than before the pandemic, but in reality, even the farmers are affected by it. Although agribusiness might not currently be affected negatively, it will be after the pandemic has passed and the lockdown has been removed because once buying habits start slowing down again the demand of produce will be less and can cause issues with the agribusiness.” Keerthana Avvaru, 15, Rising Junior at Thomas S. Wootton High School, Rockville, MD