REPORT: Coronavirus shutdowns are destroying our nation’s food supply

As a new ‘economic task force’ prepares to meet next week with the goal of making recommendations to President Trump about how best to open up parts of the country where there are few coronavirus cases, there is a new sense of urgency developing.

It’s bad enough that coronavirus-related shutdowns and mandatory business closures have resulted in more than 20 million Americans suddenly being out of work. But those shutdowns are also causing severe damage to our food supply chain.

Farmers who depend on both consumers and businesses for their livelihood have seen demand for their products plunge in recent weeks as restaurants, bars, and other food retailers have been forced to shut down as “non-essential.”

As The Wall Street Journal reported last week:

It was still dark outside at four o’clock on a recent morning when a tanker truck poured 6,000 gallons of milk into a manure pit on Nancy Mueller’s Wisconsin dairy farm.

The milk, collected from Mueller Dairy Farm’s 1,000 cows, should have been hauled to dairy processors across the state for bottling or to be turned into cheese. But the coronavirus pandemic is disrupting all that, closing restaurants and schools that buy the nation’s dairy products—and forcing hard choices for farmers like Mrs. Mueller.

“It was heart-wrenching,” she said.

Farmers and food companies across the country are throttling back production as the virus creates chaos in the agricultural supply chain, erasing sales to restaurants, hotels and cafeterias despite grocery stores rushing to restock shelves. American producers stuck with vast quantities of food they cannot sell are dumping milk, throwing out chicken-hatching eggs and rendering pork bellies into lard instead of bacon.

The problem is that while Americans are still eating, farmers and food production companies that traditionally sell in bulk to restaurants and such cannot simply shift products bound for those businesses into the appropriate packaging sizes needed at supermarkets.

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Worse, there aren’t many in the agricultural industry who believe that modest increases in sales at supermarkets will offset the major declines in restaurant food purchases.

As such, “farms are plowing under hundreds of acres of vegetables in prime U.S. growing regions like Arizona and Florida,” the WSJ reported. “Chicken companies are shrinking their flocks, to curb supplies that could weigh on prices for months to come.”

Everything from zucchini to tomatoes have been abandoned in the fields, left to rot because there are no markets for them (even export markets, apparently).

“This is a catastrophe,” said tomato farmer Tony DiMare, who owns operations in the Tampa Bay area and south Florida. “We haven’t even started to calculate it. It’s going to be in the millions of dollars. Losses mount every day.”

This time of year is when Florida leads in harvests of tomatoes, cabbage, peppers, green beans, and other produce. Obviously, many crops are destined for grocery stores, but some agricultural operations are geared solely towards the service-and-restaurant industries to include schools, most all of which closed weeks ago.

For Florida, the economic hit will be major, considering it is the state’s second-largest economic driver, generating $155 billion in revenue and feeding 2 million jobs.

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Not all of the food is going to waste. Many farmers have donated to food banks but there is only so much they can take, especially perishables like fruits and veggies.

The fact is, these coronavirus-related shutdowns are going to have a major impact on our food supply chain, at least for several months — putting even more pressure on the president to get the economy reopened as soon as safely possible.

Notice: This article may contain commentary that reflects the author's opinion.