The rapidly developing COVID-19 pandemic is already causing significant impacts across the entirety of our US food and agriculture system. Necessary measures to contain the spread of the virus have resulted in restaurant, school, and institution closures and farmers losing critical markets and revenue. Food system workers are being laid off or having their hours drastically reduced as retail and wholesale food businesses temporarily close their doors – with others still working at risk to their health and safety. Commodity markets for agricultural products are eroding rapidly, and market disruptions threaten to restrict access to credit for farmers and ranchers, many already struggling from a long-term slide in farm income. Producers, families, and organizations that support them are all feeling the heightened stress of safely managing daily life through great uncertainty.
This pandemic will continue to cause both short- and long-term disruptions to our farm and food system. Many farmers and ranchers have already made production decisions for the year – and the growing season will not wait, nor will birthing animals. Moreover, crises like this hit the vulnerable the hardest: communities of color, those without a stable home or job, elderly individuals and individuals with disabilities or pre-existing health conditions, and workers unable to stay home from work without losing their job. It remains unclear when all of these impacts will recede.
What is clear is that in the months ahead, the resilience of our farm and food system will be an essential factor in determining our success in responding to this pandemic. As a society, we must work with urgency to stem impacts and to advance solutions that will help us weather this crisis together, with a focus on ensuring that those most impacted are driving the conversation and receiving the support they need. Now is a time for collaboration and solidarity. The farmers and food system workers we represent are also our neighbors, family, and friends, sharing our concerns and hopes for the future. Working together, we hold important solutions that can help us not only navigate this major challenge but take proactive steps toward making our food and agriculture system more equitable, resilient, and sustainable.