Pricing and processing delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic have made a direct hit on the Alabama cattle and poultry industries.
Those were more problems that farmers did not need in the wake of tariffs President Trump imposed on China in 2018 and the swath cut by Hurricane Michael on South Alabama farmlands last year.
“A lot of different things have affected the farmers,” said state Agriculture Commissioner Rick Pate, himself a cattle farmer.
About 600,000 people in Alabama are involved in the farming industry. That includes row crop, fruit and vegetable farmers as well as beef and poultry farmers.
It’s unclear whether row crop farmers will take a major hit this year. Prices for crops are low now, according to agriculture officials, but a lot depends on whether that remains true through the fall harvest.
On the produce side of the table, it appears the pandemic won’t have as big an impact on Alabama’ fruits and vegetables farmers, because most of those crops are sold direct to consumers. A new website, Sweet Grown Alabama, was launched recently to connect consumers with farmers and ease the process of buying and selling produce. Read more.
Alabama’s 33,000-member agriculture workforce continues to operate as essential, but the coronavirus has impacted how much some will get paid for their work.
“Crops still have to get in the ground, cattle have to be doctored,” Brady Ragland, a commodity director for Alabama Farmers Federation, told Alabama Daily News. “Those activities have to go on.”
Some agriculture enterprises — such as farmers markets and cattle auctions — have shifted online where possible because of the coronavirus. But even before the pandemic, farmers were bracing for a tough year.
“Farm income is expected to be considerably lower,” Alabama Commissioner of Agriculture Rick Pate said last week. “Commodity prices including cotton, corn, milk and live cattle have fallen significantly. The coronavirus outbreak has affected commodity prices across the board and is likely to do so for several months.” Read more.
Jon Hegeman’s newest crop looks like marijuana. It’s got towering, feathery flowers — aka buds — and those tell-tale multi-fingered leaves.
“This is the closest thing you’ll have in Alabama to marijuana,” said Hegeman, a hemp farmer and president and co-owner of Greenway Plants.
For the first time in almost 90 years, it’s now legal to grow hemp in the U.S., including in Alabama. The passage of the 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp from a list of drugs the federal government says have a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use. Read more.