Keeping bread, flour and other food supplies flowing to supermarkets was an important achievement last week as Americans began coming to grips with the severe impact the coronavirus (COVID-19) will have on day-to-day life. As it becomes ever clearer that this pandemic will create economic challenges for a longer period than many initially imagined, thinking longer term about the food supply becomes increasingly important.
Most basic in keeping the food supply chain intact in the year ahead is successful crop production during the 2020 growing season. While winter wheat plantings in the United States were the smallest on record, the crop weathered the winter uneventfully and appeared to be in good condition as it emerged from dormancy. The Kansas wheat crop was rated 46% good or excellent as of March 15, and subsoil moisture across the state was 79% adequate or surplus. In Illinois, a leading soft red state, winter wheat in late February was 56% good or excellent.
Of greatest concern over the next several weeks is the stepped-up fieldwork that will be necessary across the United States for a successful spring wheat, corn and soybean growing season. Social distancing may be easier in rural areas of the United States, but sparse population in farm country means areas there are few hands to spare when completing fieldwork on a timely basis is critically important. Growers index significantly older than the overall population, suggesting greater risk for serious illness if exposed to COVID-19. The stakes are high for keeping America’s growers healthy, right now.