READ the NAFB’s National Ag News for Monday, April 6th

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CoBank Issues Report on COVID-19 Impact on Ag, Economy

CoBank says the COVID-19 outbreak has brought the U.S. economy to a “screeching halt.” A quarterly report from the CoBank Knowledge Division has underscored the critically important nature of agriculture, as well as other industries essential to rural America. The U.S grains sector is still stuck in a rut, with pressure on commodity prices, weakening basis for both corn and soybeans in some markets, and export volatility likely for the next few months. While crop farming fundamentals remain challenging, ag retailers enter this year’s growing season on a relatively stable footing. Retailers say they’re optimistic about a full agronomy season, given the pent-up demand for fertilizer and crop protection products, especially after a wet and complicated fall application period last year. The U.S. chicken industry was optimistic heading into 2020 thanks to expected renewed exports to China. However, the shift to at-home eating because of COVID-19 has boosted chicken demand domestically. U.S. cattle has seen a swift and sharp decline in the last month. Chinese demand for U.S. hogs has set records, but it hasn’t led to strong prices or profit margins. Milk prices have fallen off due to COVID-19. Cotton prices have sunk to new lows despite strong exports due to fears of slower economic growth. Specialty crop growers face an even tighter labor situation this spring.

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Demand for U.S. Beef and Pork Strong in Overseas Markets

Despite various travel bans and other restrictions, foreign markets still have a large number of consumers who want American pork and beef. Clay Eastwood is Director of International Marketing for the National Pork Board. She says the most recent export numbers for American pork include almost record-setting amounts. “January was the second-highest export month in history as we exported 515 million pounds of pork,” Eastwood says. “Of that number, 150 million pounds of pork went to China.” The Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier says those numbers were posted ahead of the COVID-19 pandemic that hit China and other Asian countries before spreading to the rest of the globe. Eastwood says pork production was five percent higher in 2019, with early data showing that number may climb higher this year. Pork is continuing to find solid overseas demand in traditional trading partners like Mexico and Japan. Other nations like Australia and New Zealand are buying more pork than in recent years. Demand for U.S. pork is also higher in both Central and South America. As COVID-19 cases continue to drop in China, Eastwood expects that market to get even stronger through 2020.

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Coronavirus Disrupting Global Food Chain

Reuters says the coronavirus outbreak is disrupting the global food supply chain and causing labor shortages in agriculture around the world. Panic buying by shoppers cleared supermarket shelves, creating a perception of food shortages. However, retailers and authorities say there are no underlying shortages and supplies of most products will be replenished. The logistics for getting food from the field to the plate are feeling the effects of COVID-19. In the short term, the lack of air freight and trucker shortages are slowing down fresh food deliveries. In the longer term, Reuters says a lack of available labor will affect planting and harvesting. If it goes on long enough, it could cause some shortages and rising prices for staple crops. As spring starts in Europe, farmers are trying to find enough workers to pick strawberries and asparagus, after border closures shut down the usual flow for migrant labor. Wide-scale crop losses are likely in India as a lockdown has sent large numbers of workers home, leaving farms and markets short as staple crops like wheat are almost ready for harvest. Food firms typically buy supplies in advance. However, long-term rising commodity prices will eventually be passed on to consumers.

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COVID-19 Shows Farm Labor System is Broken

The coronavirus outbreak has exposed major flaws in the American farm labor system. Politico says that’s upping the pressure on the federal government to make migrant labor much more accessible to farmers. It also highlights a lack of health and safety protections for these “essential” workers. Farmworkers who are still planting and harvesting crops have a higher than normal risk of being infected because they typically live, work, and travel in crowded conditions. Most don’t have any form of healthcare. Meanwhile, farmers are worried that the closure of U.S. embassies, especially in Mexico, will slow the flow of migrant labor into the U.S. That will make an already chronic labor shortage on produce, livestock, and nursery operations across the country that much worse. Farm labor lobbyists see an opportunity to slide labor provisions into an expected fourth stimulus bill that would provide some relief. Also, because food production has been declared a critical industry under federal guidelines, agriculture employers are giving undocumented farmworkers letters stating that they’re “essential.”

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FDA Reassures Consumers That Food is Safe

The Food and Drug Administration wants to once again reassure American consumers that food is available and safe to eat during the coronavirus outbreak. The FDA released a 30-second PSA last week designed to cut through confusion and misinformation about the food supply during the pandemic. It reiterates the message the FDA and the fresh produce industry has put out since the virus began to spread through the U.S.; there is no evidence of human or animal food or food packaging that’s transmitted the coronavirus. The Packer Dot Com says Frank Yiannas (YAH-nihs), Deputy FDA Commissioner, says the agency is working to ensure that the food supply chain is not disrupted. The agency is not anticipating there will be a need for food products to be recalled or withdrawn should someone who works in a store or processor test positive for COVID-19. The FDA has posted guidance on its website for consumers and food industry members. The agency is also talking with food industry leaders about any concerns they may have. Yiannas says the issues with keeping grocery shelves stocked are due to unprecedented demand, not a lack of capacity to produce, process, and deliver food.

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Beef Checkoff Offers Kid-Friendly Meals for Parents at Home

As Americans are spending more time at home, parents may need some meal inspiration to keep the whole family happy. The Beef Checkoff is offering some help with recipes that everyone in the family can enjoy and even make together. Some of the family favorites the Beef Checkoff recommends include Personal Beef Pizzas. They only need four base ingredients and can be customized by each family member based on what’s on hand. Other recipes include a Chuckwagon Beef and Pasta Skillet, Cheeseburger Mac, as well as Peanut Butter, Chocolate-Hazelnut, and Chocolate Chip Beef Jerky Cookies. “BeefItsWhatsForDinner.com is a great resource for kid-friendly options that can be made with kitchen staples many families may already have on hand,” says Alisa Harrison, Senior Vice President of Global Marketing and Research at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. “These family favorites can help simplify dinner, lunch, or even snack time with easy prep and flavors that satisfy the whole family.” The website also has recipes that call for five ingredients or less and affordable meals under $15, as well as a full collection of cooking lessons. It even offers virtual farm and ranch tours to help educate kids when they’re being homeschooled.

SOURCE: NAFB News Service

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By Brian Allmer - The BARN

Brian Allmer & the BARN are members of the National Association of Farm Broadcasting (NAFB), the Colorado FFA Foundation, the Colorado 4H Foundation, the Colorado Farm Show Marketing Committee, 1867 Club Board Member, Denver Ag & Livestock Club Member, the Weld County Fair Board, the Briggsdale FFA Advisory Council, Briggsdale 4H Club Beef Leader & Founder / Coordinator of the Briggsdale Classic Open Jackpot Show.