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Our food supply is strong

One farmer’s opinion on the strength of the food system in a time of crisis

By: Joanna Lidback

My cows don’t know about coronavirus.

They’re still giving milk on the schedule that they always follow. They love their routines and want to stick to them. They have no idea about our human worries, displaying what can only be described as “bovine indifference.”

The milk truck also continues to come to our farm every other day, collecting fresh supplies. The labs that check the quality of our milk remain up and running.

On our dairy farm in rural Vermont, it’s pretty much business as usual — at least in terms of our farming operation.

In just about every other way, of course, it feels like the world has turned upside down.

As a farmer, I think about food all the time — and lots of Americans along with citizens around the world are worried about whether there’s enough food to go around.

We’ve all seen the photos on social media and television. They show empty shelves and long lines. Even if you haven’t glimpsed these things with your own eyes, you possibly visited an unnervingly crowded grocery store or food mart.

Maybe you went looking for hand sanitizer or toilet paper and couldn’t find any. Perhaps you noticed that the boxes of pasta and cans of soup were running low and bought more than you thought you really needed, just in case.

There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s even rational. We all want to be prepared for the unexpected. The good news is that our food supply is strong. Coronavirus has caused a surge in demand. In a few places, this has created short-term challenges.

They won’t last. A headline in the New York Times may have said it best: “There Is Plenty of Food in the Country.”

I’ll put it more bluntly: We’re going to have the food we need. In fact, we’re going to eat well. In all of history, our ability to move food from farm to fork never has been better.

The entire food industry – starting with the farmers who are on the front lines of food production – will make sure we have nutritious and affordable food.

If you can’t find milk today, check again tomorrow. There’s no shortage.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m worried about coronavirus, too. The economy is in danger. The stock market is on a rollercoaster. The health systems around the world are facing an unprecedented test.

Schools are shutting down everywhere. We don’t know for sure when they’ll reopen, and we have to figure out what to do with our kids. On the farm, we’ll have to come up with new chores to keep them busy.

We also want to keep them – and everybody – in good health. We’re washing our hands like crazy. We’re practicing “social distancing.” A few weeks ago, most of us hadn’t even heard of that term. Now it’s becoming a way of life.

Some of our business is bound to change as well. Our co-op’s annual meeting, which was to take place next month, has been cancelled. We won’t have as many face-to-face meetings as we like to have.

There are bound to be other effects as well. On Twitter, Marin Bozic of the University of Minnesota laid out a few scenarios for the dairy industry: If we enter a global recession, which seems likely, demand for milk will drop. We’ll export less. That will lower prices for U.S. consumers. On the other hand, if plant workers start to call in sick, processing will slow down. That would boost prices. Exactly how this shakes out is anyone’s guess.

One thing that almost certainly won’t change, however, is the supply. “Milk production interruptions: I do not expect much effect here,” concluded Bozic.

The fundamentals of our farming won’t change. We’ll keep on milking the cows and loading the trucks, doing our part to feed the food chain.

We’re going to get through this, one day at a time.

My cows won’t let us down.

Joanna Lidback and her husband operate the Farm at Wheeler Mountain, a diversified dairy farm in Vermont. Lidback volunteers as a board member for the Global Farmer Network (globalfarmernetwork.org).

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