Many aspects of the agriculture industry have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Here are perspectives from just two segments of the area’s economy:
The Dairy Business
Betsy Karle, University of California Cooperative Extension area dairy adviser and director of the office in Glenn County, said the major impact has been in the supply chain.
“We know our eating habits changed drastically, from kids getting school lunches and families eating in restaurants (to eating at home),” Karle said.
She said there has been an increase in demand for grocery store products and the products sold in stores look different than those sold to places like schools and restaurants.
“Grocers aren’t selling 25 pounds of shredded cheese that a restaurant might use or single-serve milk that kids would normally (receive at school),” she said.
Dayna Ghirardelli, director of producer relations for the California Milk Advisory Board, said milk consumption is up for the first time since 1975.
“People are eating at home again so that’s driving demand for milk,” Ghirardelli said. “Milk was one of those things stores were putting signs up for limiting how much milk (people) could buy at one time.”
Another reason was that people’s purchasing habits changed – they are sometimes stocking up now while milk was an as-needed purchase, Ghirardelli said.
Another “game changer” was breakfast.
“People are eating breakfast more and milk is a huge component,” Ghirardelli said.
She said it seems like the buying habits will remain in place for some time because food service and restaurants may look different for a while.
Some people may not feel comfortable sitting in a restaurant and prices may go up for going out to eat because of supply and demand – which may encourage people to continue eating at home.
“Milk has a very solid place in the home and in the fridge,” Ghirardelli said.
Karle said on the farm, there couldn’t be many changes because the cows don’t stop producing and the dairy farmers don’t stop working.
There are typically a set number of cows on a farm, Karle said, and changing that is something that can be hard to do.
Sometimes a farmer may take cows out of production or sell them to other dairies but it can be hard to build that back up so when there are large swings in demand, farmers may be hesitant to get rid of animals, Karle said.
“Continue to drink California milk products,” Ghirardelli said. “They’re not only good for you, they taste good too. Every time you do, you support a California dairy producer.”
The Hauling Business
Hauling companies such as Valley Farm Transport have been deemed essential and therefore have been able to remain operational without having to lay off or cut hours of any employees, according to Valley Farm Transport President and Chief Executive Officer David Nickum.
“Our entire staff has taken great pride in being a part of the logistical component that is feeding people during the crisis,” Nickum said via email. “They have done a great job balancing safety while on the frontline and making sure Valley Farm Transport is meeting our hauling commitments.”
Valley Farm Transport hauls tomatoes, rice, walnuts, almonds, sunflower, corn, wheat, garlic, onions, pistachios, finished goods, prunes, carrots and other commodities in California and works with clients from Oregon to Arizona. The company has a location on Township Road in Yuba City.
Drivers are wearing masks and have been asked to be mindful of social distancing guidelines. Truck technicians are also wearing masks and trucks are being sanitized before and after inspections. At the beginning of the pandemic, some office staff worked from home and group meetings took place via conference call.
“Our course of business up to this point has stayed fairly normal,” Nickum said.
Valley Farm Transport works with vendors who use its trucks and were also asked to follow guidelines related to social distancing and wearing facial coverings.
“I will say most of our clients have taken proactive measures in requiring masks, social distancing and some are taking the temperature of the driver prior to entering their property,” Nickum said.
In April, when the company was hauling carrots from a farm in Imperial Valley, a field worker tested positive for COVID-19 and it spread to 10 other workers. Nickum said hauling slowed for the next four days.
While Valley Farm Transport has not had to make cuts to staff and business has not been significantly impacted, the majority of its profit and gross sales comes from hauling done between July 1 and December 1.
“Therefore, we will have a better idea once we get into the harvest season when tens of thousands of employees re-enter the agricultural workplace,” Nickum said.