How Farmers & Growers Have Adapted to COVID-19

2019 was a difficult year from farmers and growers, as they faced a number of weather-related issues that resulted in a middling growing season overall. However, 2020 has quickly proven to be a far greater challenge, as the COVID-19 pandemic has forced large scale shutdowns of both national and global supply chains. The result has been that many grocery stores and restaurants either cannot or will not accept agreed upon inventory, leaving farmers to repurpose their existing crops and livestock. This is not even considering the significant health risks, as most agriculture professionals simply do not have the option to turn to remote work like many other industries have in the face of this crisis. 

It is a stressful situation, with news reports showing American farmers dumping milk and burning crops due to shutdowns and lagging demand. Yet despite this doom and gloom imagery, there are many agricultural professionals who have not let these trials wear them down. Instead, they have risen to the occasion, coming up with new and novel alternatives to keep operations going. These farmers, growers, and business owners serve as an example for everyone in the industry, offering potential guidance and inspiration through their actions. 

Community Agriculture & Home Delivery

It is little surprise that most farms have seen the side of their businesses centered around restaurants and farmers markets crater over the past few months, but many have found ways to lessen the damage by instead investing in local, community-centric options. Community support agriculture (or CSA) is booming right now, with programs across the country reporting a surge in memberships. Others are doubling down on home delivery options, with some farmers approaching all-time high revenues by selling to people instead of restaurants. 

As has been the case with many other industries, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the vulnerabilities of the U.S. agribusiness supply chain, showing just how ill-prepared these systems were to handle a crisis on the scale of the Coronavirus. Even the U.S. government has recognized how viable the CSA model is during these trying times, as they recently put in $3 billion in contracts for farmers to deliver fresh produce and dairy boxes to local food banks across the country. All of this shows that the model is worthwhile, at least as an alternative to more traditional agribusiness supply chains. 

The Digitization of Farming & Forages

A common narrative that we’re seeing right now is that COVID-19 has forced professionals across almost every industry to rethink their relationships with technology. Companies have taken digital transformation plans that were expected to occur over a five-year period and have instead have fully implemented them in a matter of weeks. With so much uncertainty, businesses need every possible edge to stay competitive and profitable, and agriculture is no exception to this. 

As an example, Farmers Edge CEO Wade Barnes has argued that the COVID-19 pandemic will push for the greater digitization of farms, as there are a number of digital tools that could simplify the complex communications among farms, seed companies, insurance agents, and other stakeholders. We’ve already seen a number of farms embracing new technologies to better meet the demands of the pandemic, from autonomous planting robots to wearable tech for health screening purposes

What The Future Holds

There’s no telling exactly what the post-pandemic world is going to look like, but one thing that is apparent is that U.S. farmers and growers are more than capable of adapting to that world. Rather than just rushing to go back to “business as usual,” the COVID-19 pandemic can serve as an opportunity to address our systems’ faults and to introduce innovative new solutions. This is a time of crisis, but it is also a time to learn, grow, and improve, so that once the pandemic is truly over, we can come back stronger than ever.