There is not a market out there that hasn’t been infected by 2020’s silent enemy. We are talking about none other than Covid-19, the pandemic that swept the nation halting business and forcing the world to stay inside.
At no other time in modern history did we live through a time where the majority of the world’s productions stopped, crashing stocks and sticking a fork in small local service-based businesses. While the world tries to get up to par on the virus and the economic damage it will most surely cause, the Trump administration was busy at work, putting together a bailout for businesses.
Ultimately, this led to the signing of a multibillion-dollar stimulus to be budgeted by the department. Agriculture alone was handed $16 billion to budget, with Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue claiming, “direct payments would be a lifeline for farmers of all sizes and all production.” But that wasn’t the case. Something in the accounting was way off, giving the industry’s powerhouses the upper hand. Of the first round of direct payments, 700,000 totaled $5.6 billion went to large-scale corporate farmers.
Small Farms Treated as Outliers in the Bailout Formula
Covid-19 relief for farmers, better known as Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, is unequivocally aimed at industrialized farms. Small farms were somehow pushed out of the mix, not fitting the mold placed by the Trump administration. To make matters worse, 20% of the entire budgeted amount went to the farming industry’s top 1%, including large-scale productions like cattle and dairy and corn. For smaller crops, this means trouble. Take the lowest payout on the scale, for example, that received just 7 cents. From the first batch of relief funds, 200 farms received less than $200. And this is only round one of distributions. Now, the Department of Agriculture is left to split up the rest of the funds left between the rest of America’s farmers.
The bailout claims to specifically include “producers that supply local food systems, including farmers markets, restaurants, and schools.” However, these are the entities falling outside of the lines of the billions of dollars left to divide. These kinks in the food supply chain give more power to industrial farms, giving them a chance to take over small farms that can no longer supply.
Oklahoma: Smack Dab in the Middle of America’s Breadwinners
The most abundant industrial crops, which include corn and soybeans, are based in the midwestern part of the U.S. The South houses more cattle crops than the North, and the deep South takes the cake when it comes to cotton with Texas producing 45% of the cotton within the United States. One neighboring state, Oklahoma, is a massive producer of wheat. They fall short compared to the Midwest but host both corn and soybeans on their soil as well. Because they take second place as producers of America’s most abundant crops, they are likely to be left behind without the means to make a comeback. One Oklahoma farmer, Brady Cooper, has grown one of Oklahoma’s most abundant crops for years. He’s got all the goodies growing, including soybeans, wheat, and corn. He was included in the first batch to receive a cut of the first round of Covid-19 assistance, receiving almost $5000. Though that may sound like a lucky day, that barely covers his losses so far in 2020, leaving him unsure about the future of his livelihood.
Rise and Shine: Farmers Stay on the Grind
Cooper, like many Oklahoma farmers, is currently at a break-even point. If Covid-19 keeps spreading and a vaccine is not available, farms could be in trouble. Farms are starting to feel the falling dominoes’ vibrations as nearby partnerships begin to crumble and fall. Without their money-making businesses, they are left to worry about things, including the overall health of their vegetables. This has not put a halt to their optimism, with most farmers going about their business, as usual, hoping that a solution or cure comes to the rescue. This optimism can only stretch so far as losses increase, and revenue plummets operational costs can add up and leave some without a way to afford them.
Past bailouts are what keep most farmers in a positive state of mind. Those that have been in the industry or part of a long-running farm family know that hard times happen. They know that, because the world needs food, the government has their back and will do all they can to keep them from falling.
Is Covid-19 A New Normal?
As we get closer to the usual flu season, the entire world is left guessing. Will we go back into quarantine? Will there be a vaccine? Will more businesses shut down? Covid-19 numbers in the U.S. reached a peak towards the end of July, with a small descend starting shortly after. This still leaves no sure prediction for citizens, economists, or farmers. It is an unpredictable time. Business, however, doesn’t do so well without a foreseeable future. This is especially true with farms. Crop producers rely on predictions and projections to make a living. They look to the years before using those numbers to fund current year’s costs and predict their earnings for the year to come. Crops don’t grow year-round and are a one-shot chance at making money.
Recent stats have confirmed that losses in the U.S totaled $40 billion as of May. As we near the second half of 2020, we are left with unmeasurable uncertainty about the years to come. We all want this to be over soon and for things to go back to the way they were. While we can all use this as a learning experience, small-scale farmers can’t afford to wait for an epiphany. They need solutions, and they need them fast before they are left in the dust and taken over by industrialized producers of one of our most considerable necessities, food.