Coronavirus: Keeping Farms Running During a Pandemic – DTN

Photo: University of Minnesota

Over 1,600 global customers attended the Global Digital Conference and Situation Report on April 14-15, hosted by U.S. Soybean Export Council (USSEC). The conference included topics related to global supply and demand in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the implications of the pandemic on the global soy marketplace and the ability of the U.S. to meet soybean demand during this time.

One session was dedicated to farmers who spoke of their planting intentions and what plans they had in place should the virus affect their farms.

“Spring is planting season, and as farmers, we have a responsibility to continue our job no matter what obstacles we face,” said Monte Peterson, Chairman of USSEC, board member of the American Soybean Association and soybean farmer in Valley City, North Dakota.

“Farmers have always been resilient in challenging situations, and this time is no different. Farmers, and the agriculture industry, including USSEC, are doing everything we can to ensure our product meets the safety and quality standards that our customers expect from U.S. soy.”

Derek Haigwood, a director on the U.S. Soybean Export Council and United Soybean Board, and a soybean farmer from Arkansas, said that he wanted conference participants to know that the U.S. farmer will put in a crop this spring. Haigwood noted that the majority of his crop will be soybeans and that he is focused on the protection of his employees.

“We have a warehouse where our rice, corn and soybean seeds are delivered and that way we don’t have to go into town to the seed dealership or the chemical dealership. We are also making sure that when we start planting, we will be social distancing as much as we can. We are not stopping, and I have no doubt that we will pull this off.”

Haigwood said that he was grateful for the technology he has access to in order to stay in touch with customers and industry counterparts.

Brian Kemp, a director on the U.S. Soybean Export Council and American Soybean Association, and a farmer from Iowa, noted that on his family farm, his traditional rotation is one-half of his acres are planted to corn and one-half to soybeans.

“By alternating between these crops, I reduce potential insect and disease problems,” said Kemp. “Input costs for soybean seeds and fertilizer are lower for soybeans than they are for corn, and some producers are planning on switching acres from corn to soybeans for that reason.” Kemp said their soil profile is good and expects planting to begin in the next week to 10 days.

Kemp said, “My farm life has changed very little as we have social distanced ourselves in agriculture for years, but the way I interact with my input suppliers has changed somewhat.” Kemp said business he conducts with them or his insurance agent has to be done over the phone, but he is receiving chemicals and fertilizers in his yard as normal.

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“I sense that the whole farming community is very cautious at this time, and it would be disastrous for us to get quarantined during planting season,” said Kemp. “We are all very careful that we don’t expose ourselves any more than we have to.”

Doug Winter, vice chairman and director on the U.S. Soybean Export Council and the United Soybean Board, is a farmer near the small town of Mill Shoals in southeastern Illinois. White said he farms 3,200 acres, growing white and yellow corn, seed and commercial soybeans and soft red winter wheat.

“Getting an earlier start on corn and an earlier start on soybeans is a big thing this year, and I am looking forward to getting the crop in the ground and having it get off to a lot better start this year. I am hoping for an improvement in market prices and yields over last year.”

Winter said that his farm does have a plan in place should an employee become infected with the virus. “We are taking adequate or more than adequate precautions to guard ourselves against the virus in the past weeks. Lord knows we’ve gone through a lot of hand sanitizer and sanitary wipes the past few weeks.”

Joel Schreurs, a director on the U.S. Soybean Export Council and American Soybean Association is a farmer in Tyler, Minnesota. He farms with his son and said that they have 1,000 acres plus another 500 acres along with a cow-calf operation. “The soybean quality we grow on our farm is second to none. We are very particular on how we raise our crop and handle our grain, and most farmers are likely the same way.

“The current situation is very distressing and it’s hard to get some of the goods and services so far,” said Schreurs. He noted that they cannot walk in to their implement dealer for parts but can order them online or bring a list to the business and wait outside of the shop to receive the order.

“I believe we will be able to take care of what needs to be taken care of as long as nobody gets sick. If I get sick, my son-in-law could run the planter or vice versa,” said Schreurs. “Most farm operations are crossed trained to run the different equipment.”

Schreurs added that as soon as weather permits, “we will start planting, but given the recent cold weather and moisture, we still have a few weeks before we start small grains, then corn and then soybeans.

“Last year, the weather stopped us from planting 50% of our corn, but we were able to plant 95% to 97% of our soybeans and did have a good crop. We will get planted; one way or another, we will plant. However, Mother Nature will have a lot to do with that — she is the Queen.”

RURAL COVID-19 TASK FORCE SOUGHT

In a news release on April 17, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Representatives Antonio Delgado (D-NY-19) and Xochitl Torres Small (D-NM-02), along with colleagues in both the House and Senate, including Senator Tina Smith (D-MN), sent a letter to Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, urging the Administration to establish a “Rural COVID-19 Task Force.”

The task force would help to identify rural challenges, develop strategies and policy recommendations, assemble a guide of available Federal programs and resources, consult with the Department and Congressional Committees, and provide oversight on the distribution of funding.

“We’re facing a national crisis and it affects every American, no matter where they live,” Klobuchar said. “Communities across the country don’t have the capacity to deal with this pandemic, so the administration needs to take immediate action to make sure we’re getting our rural communities the resources they need to prepare and address the growing challenges.”

Klobuchar also noted that rural communities must be considered when equipment and tests are allocated. The letter sent to Secretary Perdue noted that, “The only way to beat this pandemic is to fight the virus together, and that means making sure that no person or community is left behind and that they all have the resources, support and access they need to respond to and recover from this crisis.”

Here is a link to the entire letter.

Mary Kennedy can be reached at mary.kennedy@dtn.com

Follow her on Twitter @MaryCKenn

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