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Covid Fallout

Jim Boxberger - Columnist
Posted 12/17/20

You may be stuck inside since the snowstorm this week, you might even have the kids stuck inside with you as well. Playing games, watching Netflix or Disney plus or just getting ready for Christmas. …

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Covid Fallout


You may be stuck inside since the snowstorm this week, you might even have the kids stuck inside with you as well. Playing games, watching Netflix or Disney plus or just getting ready for Christmas. But here is a critical story that you will not see on the evening news unless you happen to watch RFD TV, which I have not met another person that has watched it.

Covid-19 has devastated the restaurant industry with closures in the major metropolitan areas and even some restrictions still around here. But family farms around the country that were already in financial distress are all but pushing up daisies now. In 2019, the number of farm bankruptcies around the country jumped about twenty percent from the previous year.

It was the most farm bankruptcies since the early 2010s, when farmers and the rest of the country were trying to recover from the 2008 financial crisis. Now in 2020, the farm bankruptcy numbers are on pace to be similar to the ones in 2019. In 2019, through September, 454 farms had filed for Chapter 12 bankruptcy, which is intended to restructure debts and save the farm if possible.

This year, through September, 433 farms have done so, according to figures from the U.S. Court system. Now these are not the huge mega farms that cover hundreds of square miles in the mid-west, but the family farms that crisscross this country. They may produce corn, wheat or soybean, or maybe a family dairy or hog farm. Either way, these farms where already being pressed by the trade war and tariffs put on imports and exports. American farmers produce nearly all of the country's food and contribute some $133 billion annually to the gross domestic product.

Yet they now are saddled with near-record debt, declaring bankruptcy at rising rates and selling off their farms amid an uncertain future clouded by climate change, tariffs that change every year and now Covid-19. You might think a family farm is a great place to social distance from the rest of the world, but when you worry every day whether or not you will lose the family farm it can be a very dark place.

For some, the burden is too much to bear. Farmers are among the most likely to die by suicide, compared to other occupations, according to a January 2020 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The study also found that suicide rates for farmers overall had increased by 40% in less than two decades.

This study was done before the Covid-19 crisis and none of the findings account for the Covid factor. No one economic crisis takes full blame. Instead, a cascade of events has plagued farmers in recent years. Key commodity prices have plummeted by about fifty percent since 2012. Farm debt has jumped by about a third since 2007, to levels last seen in the 1980s, when we had the Farm Aid Concert, to raise awareness of the problem.

Bad weather prevented farmers from planting nearly 20 million acres in 2019 alone. U.S. soybean exports to China dropped seventy-five percent from 2017 to 2018 amid trade tensions and tariff wars.

And then you have 2020, with Covid-19, lockdowns, mask mandates, travel restrictions and the largest shut down of the American economy since the Great Depression.

In 2008, Congress approved the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network Act to provide behavioral health programs to farmers via grants to states. But it appropriated no money for the FRSA until last year, more than a decade and hundreds of suicides later.

We have family farms here that need our support and there is a way you can help.

Have you heard about the Catskills Food Hub? An online farmers marketplace found at catskillsfoodhub.org, where you can buy local farm fresh products throughout the year, not just during the summer months.

If you have the time while you are stuck indoors, it is definitely worth a look.


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