Producers don't like to see waste
Last updated 6/4/2020 at 11:24am
Whether it is a crop, milk or livestock, no one involved in agriculture wants their products to go anywhere other than to consumers. That is what makes the COVID-19 crisis particularly difficult for agriculture – food continues to be produced but, in many cases, it is not reaching its intended destination.
In April, the president of Tyson meats warned of a nationwide meat shortage. Milk producers are working to find the middle ground between keeping their cattle healthy and maintaining their income. Produce growers are allowing cucumbers, lettuce and other fresh crops to rot in the fields because they cannot cover the expense to harvest and ship them.
The agricultural supply chain in the U.S. is people-driven and requires a great deal of hands-on work. Despite the ending of the state of emergency order and the partial reopening of restaurants, farms and ranches are still at loose ends when it comes to keeping everything moving.
Amid the chaos there are a few important things to remember about the food supply chain:
1. There is a meat shortage, but it is not for lack of production. Consumers should consider purchasing meat directly from the source if they can. The state Beef Commission has compiled a list of farmers, ranchers, and butcher shops that sell beef directly to customers and separated the list by county for consumer ease. The local beef directory gives consumers a means to bridge the divide between farm and fork while also discovering where their meat comes from.
2. Look for Washington-grown produce to help fill your pantry. The Washington State University Farm Finder tool allows consumers to search for farms in their area to find the produce you are looking for.
Our state has 1 billion pounds of surplus potatoes that need to be dealt with ahead of the next potato harvest.
On Tuesday, June 2, the Washington State Potato Commission reached its goal to donate 1 million pounds of processing potatoes. The final donation location was at Freightliner Northwest in Olympia.
Some producers are struggling, which is why the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the earlier this week. The program provides payments to qualifying farmers and ranchers affected by the coronavirus-related market downturn.
The program also includes the purchase of staple crops – potatoes, onions, and apples from the northwest – and the distribution of those crops through the use of food boxes, will be assembled and distributed to families through food banks, non-profits or faith-based organizations to help those in need.
For a few years, the mantra for farmers and ranchers has been "trade, not aid."
Farmers feared becoming reliant on governmental funding for a regular operating budget line item. As years of hard times pile up on the agricultural community, we need to be cognizant of working to maintain financial independence. Using support in short years, or when something outside of a grower's control takes hold of the entire country, is one thing, but creating an operating plan around the use of government funds is quite another.
Nothing about the last few months has been easy to navigate. Farmers and ranchers need consumers to continue their generations-long pursuits.
Consumers need farmers and ranchers so they can continue to have access to fresh food. When both ends of the food supply chain work together, even during a global pandemic, we can keep people happy, healthy, and fed.
- Pam Lewison is the Washington Policy Center Initiative on Agriculture director. Email her at [email protected]