After several days of dry weather and warmer temperatures, farmers have begun their spring planting chores. Pictured is a White County farmer spraying pre-emergent chemicals on a field north of Centerville.

The COVID-19 pandemic is impacting virtually every segment of the economy. Local farming operations have not been spared. “The most obvious impact on agriculture is being seen in the markets for grain and livestock,” said Doug Anderson, Manager of the White County Farm Bureau. “Oil prices have dropped well below $20 per barrel. Ethanol prices typically track with oil prices, so the price of ethanol has also dropped. Ethanol plants may be shutting down and that would be a huge market loss locally for corn because of the ethanol plant in Mount Vernon, Indiana.”

Anderson added that the trade war between America and China is still impacting local producers. “Even with phase one of a trade agreement with China implemented, we still haven't seen orders for grain as promised,” Anderson said. “Maybe later in the year, China will make good on those promises.”

As far as livestock is concerned, Anderson noted that many supermarkets are running low on meat. “The shortage of meat has not trickled back to farmers in the form of higher prices for livestock,” Anderson said. “At a federal level, there maybe could be some investigations about why commodity prices haven't tracked up higher.”

Specialty crops grown in White and surrounding counties could eventually see an impact from COVID-19. The planting of specialty crops like tobacco, pumpkins and cucumbers is typically done utilizing local labor. However, harvesting chores often require migrant labor. “That is a long term concern,” Anderson said. “Later in the summer – when we get into July, August and September, it could really hit home because of a shortage of migrant labor.”   The harvest of locally grown green beans has been mechanized and is not as labor intensive as pumpkins and squash.

For the rest of the story, check out this week's Navigator.