COVID-19 Town Hall: The challenges facing the food chain

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KOMU 8's Emily Spain talked with Scott Brown, an agricultural economist with the University of Missouri, about the challenges of getting food from the farm to your table during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brown discusses the road blocks slowing down the food chain and what's being done to help speed things back up.

He also explained why some farmers have had to dump their products even with high demand from consumers. 

Check out his answers below.

Q: Can you explain the current struggle of getting food from the farm to the consumer's table?

"We spend about $150 billion roughly on food in this country. More than half of that is food away from home. And so, when food service and restaurants basically closed with the start of COVID-19, it created a huge backlog issue on the food service side. And then grocery demand picked up substantially...Processing and distribution of food from farmers to the grocery store has also been a challenge as COVID-19 has created worker issues in those areas as well."

Q: Why are we seeing farmers dump milk and euthanize animals?

"So, in many cases they really don't have any choice. In the case of dairy, we're going to milk those cows every day and if there's no one there to pick up that milk or to process that milk they have no choice, but to dump it. In the case of hogs in particular when those hogs are market ready, there's not a lot we can do in terms of holding them on the farms and so we don't have a separate space to process those hogs on, we have no choice but to euthanize those animals."

Q: How will President Trump's Defense Protection Act affect the food chain?

"Well, I think number one we have a chance to see processing plants now stay open assuming they follow the CDC guidelines for COVID-19. Just to put that in perspective, [Monday] we slaughtered 292,000 head of hogs in this country. Normally, in early 2020, we were about 445,000 head. So, we hope with that Defense Protection Act in place now we can start to talk about ramping back up because every day that we're 150,000 heads short in hogs it's just that much deeper of a hole we have to try to pull ourselves out of."

Q: How can people support local farmers right now?

"Producers are under an extreme amount of stress right now. The last thing they want to do is dump milk or to euthanize animals in the herd. So, recognizing the mental stress this creates I think is really important for those that aren't in production agriculture."