Wednesday, June 03, 2020

Post-COVID-19 pandemic: What’s it mean for agriculture?

Before the COVID-19 outbreak, massive pandemics seemed relegated to the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918. So, could a COVID equivalent happen today in crops? There have been some ominous signs in recent years. In 2005, Asian soybean rust (which originated in Japan in 1902) ravaged Brazilian soybeans, threatening U.S. production. Fortunately, it could not survive the hard freezes that occur in most of the U.S. Citrus greening (which has placed the future of U.S. citrus crops at risk) is caused by a bacterium spread by the Asian citrus psyllid. This crop plague originated in China. “Those are a couple examples of diseases that have been spread on a global basis,” says Mike Miile of Joyn Bio.  
Ag trade remains in flux
Joe Glauber of the International Food Policy Research Institute says there are obvious impacts to agriculture due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The impact on the health of farm labor and workers in the meatpacking plants rises to the top. Then there is the disruption of supply chains causing rising retail prices as producers’ prices fall. Less-covered issues and challenges for U.S. agriculture cannot be forgotten, Glauber quickly adds. “If it weren’t for coronavirus, we would be talking about many of these things today. We have a new NAFTA agreement (USMCA) that is supposed to be going into effect July 1. There are a lot of people asking if we can put this off (especially in the automotive sector) as companies fight supply problems. White House officials say they are going forward.” The U.S.-China trade agreement is facing hurdles, too. Glauber doesn’t see China being able to successfully meet its Phase One agreements of buying U.S. ag products due to COVID-19. “I just don’t see much happening before the end of the year – with everything else (coronavirus) going on,”...
 Fertilizer supplies, prices stable
If there’s a bright spot for farmers from COVID-19, it’s that fertilizer supplies are secure and prices are competitive. “Farmers are getting the fertilizer they need, and prices are at a very low level,” says Rick McLellan of The Mosaic Company. Whether future fertilizer prices remain low hinges on supply and demand. “There are not a lot of new phosphate plants coming on right now, so as demand continues to grow, prices will come up,” McLellan says. Prices also hinge on Chinese phosphate exports. “Chinese exports have been quite large and growing over the last 15 to 20 years, and they may stabilize,” he says...
Chemical Supplies are secure
China is a large supplier of chemical and chemical components, and that raises COVID-19-related concerns. Major manufacturers say they have diversified to limit exposure to any challenges to Chinese manufacturing. Bayer officials observe that issues around COVID-19 have not created a domestic or international shift in how the company currently sources its products. Corteva Agriscience, too, has sourced chemicals from multiple locations across the world, which lowers dependence on China, says Tim Glenn of Corteva Agriscience. Long term, he says Corteva will examine its diversification strategy to help ensure it has resiliency and reliability in its supply chain. “Right now, though, we’re satisfied with having a diversified supply chain,” he adds...

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