Can COVID-19 strengthen ag?

A look at five possibilities for things that the pandemic might improve in and about agriculture.

Raised garden beds can be a good place to start with gardening. (Esther McGinnis, Special to Agweek)

I toyed for a bit with the idea of writing an Agweek cover package on the possible ways that the coronavirus pandemic might strengthen agriculture. Though the pandemic has caused stress, pain and death worldwide, there's been talk in some circles of silver linings — of ways that it ultimately might benefit ag.

It's too early for a cover, I decided. Too much uncertainty, too many unknowns. But I figure the topic might work in a column; it expresses personal opinions, not the facts of a news article. Here's a quick look at some of the ways that ag might be helped. I leave out double-sided benefits/downsides such as potentially greater home sales and consumption of organic food and a corresponding drop in restaurant sales.

A stronger supply chain: Yes, the phrase "supply chain" can sound boring and trite. In reality, it's vitally important. The processes of getting food from fields to home tables and restaurants is an essential part of our modern society. It's safe to say, I think, that our food supply chain eventually will become stronger and more resilient. How that happens will be something to watch going forward.

Greater appreciation for meat plants: Let's be honest.. Meat plants aren't exactly public or media darlings. Too often they've been treated as a necessary evil or simply ignored. The pandemic has reminded us of how crucial they are.

Greater appreciation for meat plant employees: My knowledge of processing meat is limited to decades of helping family members at home cut up venison that we shot during North Dakota deer gun season. It's hard, physical work. I don't know the details of meat plant employees' jobs, but I'm sure it's difficult — and year-round, not six or eight hours once a year. So spare a few kind thoughts for the folks who labor at meat plants.


More backyard gardens: There's speculation that the pandemic will encourage Americans to grow more of their own food. There will be some of that, I think, although it's too early to predict its extent, And how will some Americans raising green beans and tomatoes in their backyard strengthen ag? Simple. The more first-hand, personal experience that people have with growing food, the better. They'll learn at least a little about crop disease, insects, weeds and the frequently unpleasant vagaries of weather; they'll have a little better understanding of what full-time farmers go through. That's definitely a good thing for ag.

Less complacency: Too many Americans have taken their food supply for granted. They go to the restaurant, and food is there. They go to the grocery store, and food is there. Now, in some cases for the first time, consumers realize there's no guarantee. To be fair, complacency isn't limited to consumers. A veteran farmer once told me that some younger farmers are reluctant to invest in ag research. I expressed surprise; surely these are mostly bright, educated people who understand its value. Well, he said, they've grown complacent.

No doubt there may be other silver linings to the pandemic: drop me a line if you have thoughts on the subject. And maybe in a year or so I'll write an Agweek cover story on how ag has benefited from the pandemic. In the meantime, keep doing what you've always done: evaluate changing conditions and make the best decisions possible for your ag business.

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