Celebrating National Ag Day and farmers whose efforts continue to feed America throughout these difficult days
As nearly one in three Americans are now asked to stay home, we are witnessing people stockpiling at grocery stores throughout the country, highlighting our collective fear of food scarcity and an unstable food supply chain. If we shouldn’t expect to see actual shortages, for the time being, we are witnessing our food production system being stretched significantly right now. The value of vegetable imports in the US was already up 15% in January and the price index for vegetables to retailers up more than 60% to an all-time high (both compared to the average of the past four January months). We can expect these numbers to be even higher for the month of February based on early indicators of prices (growers’ experienced prices) in California and Arizona. What is creating this stretch?
Before COVID-19 hit our communities and our economy, more than half of California producers reported labor shortages of seasonal field labor and 70% are noticing an increase with difficulty to hire year over year. According to a USDA report, “several indications suggest the farm labor market is tightening in the United States”. The domestic supply of field labor is insufficient, pushing U.S. farmers to rely on people to travel from abroad to take on these jobs (agricultural workers coming from Mexico to the U.S. on a temporary working visa have quadrupled in the past fifteen years).
In the U.S., today there are about 4 times less people working on farms than in hospitals which is just what is needed to seed, farm and harvest the food the U.S. needs in normal times. Exceptional shocks to demand (people rushing to stockpile) and additional constraints to the ability of people to work on fields (travel restrictions and safety measures) are putting our farming industry under stress. And still, we are seeing shelves with fresh lettuce heads and broccolis being restocked at the grocery store every few days.
This didn’t happen because of some miracle but thanks to the hard work of U.S. farmers who are doing an amazing job adapting their processes under pressure to produce and feed the population. Sales departments of large farms are working remotely; workers are doubling down on hygienic behaviors by splitting crews and working in smaller groups. This is further proof of the incredible resilience of farmers and their ability to adapt to exceptional events. The weather has trained generations of farmers to be resilient, this is proving to be useful in these particular crucial times where all Americans are relying on them. Next time you stop at your grocery store, take a second to appreciate the sweat and efforts that were required to get this lettuce to your doorstep.
Congratulations and thank you to all growers in the U.S. Happy National Ag day, everyone!