Figuring out how much COVID-19 has hurt agriculture isn't easy. But agricultural economists at Iowa State University are giving it their best shot.

The webpage "COVID-19 Pandemic: Research and Resources," developed by Iowa State's Center for Agricultural and Rural Development and Department of Economics, looks an how the pandemic has impacted agriculture in Iowa, regionally and globally.

"What we're finding is, it depends on the sector you're in as far as the impact and the length of the impact," said Chad Hart, ISU associate professor. "For example, looking at the crops, what we've seen is a fairly substantial drop in prices through the year on the order of 15-20% across the board and that prices remain low today."

Chad Hart, Iowa State University associate professor. (Iowa State University photo)
Chad Hart, Iowa State University associate professor. (Iowa State University photo)
"On the other hand, the livestock industry saw some deeper cuts, with prices going down sometimes 30-40%. But we've seen some recovery since then," Hart said. "When we look across agriculture, each industry is facing its own challenges due to COVID-19. So there isn't one story to be told here, there's actually many,"

One of the site's top features is a pricing tracker that provides estimates of how much economic loss the pandemic has inflicted on Iowa's corn, soybean and ethanol industries. As of June 8, the most recent data available when this article was prepared, the pandemic will cause an estimated $819 million in lost corn revenue by year's end, with estimated soybean losses reaching $198 million and ethanol losses soaring to an estimated $2,572 million by year's end.

"We're looking at where prices were at the beginning of the year versus where they're at now and using that to say, "OK, part of that is the COVID-19 impact,'" Hart said. "We then worked through what those price changes were at the time and have built this economic damage model," which is updated weekly.

The webpage also features graphs, tables and maps that represent the pandemic's impact, and also includes relevant news releases and publications from Iowa State. One of the offerings of the webpage is an analysis of how China's economy has been impacted by COVID-19.

ISU officials say they expect to continue to expand the site in coming weeks.

'Keep myself afloat'

U.S. farmers and ranchers generally pride themselves on their ability to adopt to changing price and weather conditions. But doing so now is particularly difficult because the pandemic has created unique conditions.

Hart, asked how farmers and ranchers should adjust now to changes related to COVID-19, gave this advice:

"Keep doing what you've done well in the past. But at the same time, too, it's recognizing that the markets have changed here at least for a little while, that we may need to be more aggressive in taking advantage of little marketing opportunities that occur," he said.

An example: Trying to capitalize on small market upturns to make sure that 2020 operating costs are covered.

"2020 is going to be a rough year financially. The best thing I can do (as farmer or rancher) is to try to keep myself afloat, to tread water through these turbulent times and hope to emerge on the other side in better shape," Hart said.

To look at the webstate: