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Agriculture bands together despite COVID-19 concerns

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Published on March 28, 2020

As the COVID-19 pandemic rages across the United States, the agriculture sector has remained steadfast in producing food and fiber to feed and clothe the country. As many non-essential businesses close down to promote social distancing, the Centers for Disease Control recognized agriculture and related sectors as crucial. 

            Despite less-than-ideal markets, the agriculture sector continues to push forward, keeping grocery shelves stocked. 

            “We’re spoiled in America,” said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue in a recent press release. “Farmers and ranchers have provided such abundant, healthy, wholesome, affordable and available food that we take them for granted.” 

            “I know these are uncertain times, but I just want to tell everyone from my heart, as an American citizen, I am so grateful for what farmers and ranchers are doing. And I want to thank them for doing that,” said Perdue. 

            “I know there’s been a lot of confusion about teleworking and all that kind of stuff. Farmers and ranchers all have jobs that can’t telework and we know that. We’ve got our Food Safety Inspection workers on the front line, day in and day out to make sure our food is safe, just like we always have,” he said. 

            Perdue continued, “But farmers and ranchers are the real heroes in this effort. In World War II, we actually had agricultural deferments because the food supply chain was so important and that’s essentially what you all are doing.” 

            “From the person making the equipment, to those who supply the farmers, to the seed, the fertilizer, the farmers that go day in and day out to produce this food and all through the processing, the packaging, the logistics, and the stocking of the shelves, to greeting and checking out people – they all are vital to our economy and vital to the needs of the American food supply,” he concluded.

Industry reactions

            “There is a great deal of uncertainty about the ongoing impact of coronavirus, its impact on the beef industry and the United States as a whole,” said National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) CEO Colin Woodall. “At this time, it’s impossible to measure the full effects of the virus or determine how it may continue to unfold.” 

            “Although the full beef supply chain is being challenged by the outbreak, all segments of the industry are working closely together and must continue to do so,” Woodall said. “The current uncertainty facing beef producers is shared by all of agriculture and every American. By working together, we will overcome these obstacles.”

            “As coronavirus has spread in the United States, NCBA has been in daily communication with participants from every sector of the beef supply chain,” Woodall noted. “We’re working closely with cow/calf producers, stocker operators and feedlots. We’re also communicating regularly with packing sector participants, restaurant and retail operations.” 

            “Every one of these operations is facing unique challenges and many shared burdens,” he said. “As we continue to work through this crisis, we must do everything in our power to safeguard every sector of the business from disruption while ensuring cattle and beef continue to move in an orderly manner.”

            The American Sheep Industry Association and the National Lamb Feeders Association sent a letter to USDA Under Secretary Greg Ibach calling for prompt solicitation of bids under a Feb. 19 Pre-Solicitation Notice Announcement for Trade Mitigation Purchase of Lamb Products.

            Lamb meat sales to food service industries are struggling due to developments surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to the closure of many restaurants around the United States.

            “The Easter/Passover season is traditionally the single largest lamb consumption period of the year, so the loss of sales is devastating,” read the letter. “Decreased slaughter during this run up to the largest lamb processing period can lead to back-up of live lambs in the feedlots, which again supports an aggressive use of USDA lamb meat purchases. We ask that every consideration is made of any additional lamb products for near term solicitations, as well as use of Section 32 procurement funds, as appropriate.”

            Following congressional efforts to provide immediate, short-term relief for U.S. cattle producers during these historic times, United States Cattlemen’s Association (USCA) President Dr. Brooke Miller issued the following statement.

            “USCA would like to recognize efforts by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to keep the U.S. agriculture system running as smoothly as possible and providing certainty in uncertain times,” she said. “Secretary Sonny Perdue, senior officials and staff have worked around the clock to ensure continuity and we greatly appreciate the continued dialogue with industry and other stakeholders.”

            “Transportation, inspection and processing of beef is critical during this time. From the transportation of beef across the country, inspections in plants, export ports and import stations – it’s essential all of this continues during these challenging times,” said Miller. “Further, USCA requests the department continue its market oversight responsibilities and examine any anticompetitive buying practices currently taking place in the marketplace.”

            “While there is still work yet to be done, we now have viable solutions we can press forward with as producers handle the fallout from COVID-19,” Miller said. “USCA will continue to convene industry leaders via our policy committees to find consensus on the issues that matter most to our members.”

            She continued, “USCA looks forward to working with both Congress and the dministration to find a way for our members to get back to doing what they do best, restocking grocery store shelves with the highest quality beef in the world.”

            Callie Hanson is the managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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