After one month of lockdown, here in the United States, COVID-19 has radically changed the way we live our lives. Our routines have been shattered, some of us have lost jobs and incomes. We are even turning on each other over social distancing and government control.
We are also watching the price and availability of the food in our nation drastically change. Americans are not accustomed to this. Meats, paper products and even some canned staples are all missing at the bulk of supermarkets all over the nation.
There are many systems that will be affected by this virus and the drastic authoritarian actions of our local, federal and even world governments. Food is one that we have already felt the implications of. Meat processing, agriculture and even the supermarkets themselves are struggling to deal with greater demand and less supply.
So why, exactly, have food prices and food shortages come into play already?
24 workers at a Tyson pork processing plant in Iowa have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and the plant is now shutdown.
There have been 2 deaths at another Tyson plant in Georgia and we must imagine that this is simply the beginning.
If proper measures cannot or have not been executed quickly, than we will see more illnesses like these, more deaths and more closures. This will amount to less meat on the shelves and likely a higher price on that meat.
While many people griped over the fact that COVID-19 wasn’t even as deadly as the flu, we are now seeing the full extent of its impact. COVID-19, unlike the flu, can shut down an entire processing plant. In fact, it will shutdown several, before this is all said and done.
Smithfield Shudders and Shuts Down
One of the largest pork processing plants in the nation has shutdown.
In Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Smithfield has made the decision to close that plant because so many of the employees were infected with COVID-19.
There were 238 confirmed cases in this plant alone!
This plant is responsible for 5% of the nation’s pork production. The request to close came directly from the Governor Kristi Noem and the department of health.
This will influence both price and supply going forward. Hopefully, best practices will be created and spread around the nation to other meat processing plants. We cannot see meat processing hit much harder, without it having a strong effect on the average American.
The Institutional Gap
Funny enough, food production is also stunned by the fact that many farmers produce foods for restaurants.
While you might think of the supermarket as the one large outlet for food producers on the planet, institutions and restaurants utilize much more of the food supply compared to home kitchens.
You eat out once a week or more. Schools and restaurants are usually producing meals all day every day. Suddenly those massive outlets are no longer buying the food that these farmers are producing, that is meat, produce and dairy.
Suspended Immigrant Labor Supply
Who picks the food we eat? We all know the answer. Many of the same people prepared the food we ate in restaurants.
America took action to limit who was coming in the nation in March as COVID-19 ramped up. This meant many of the immigrant and non-immigrant visas were suspended, as well.
As you can imagine, many farmers are concerned about what it might look like to have fields full of food and animals to feed, but no one to pick the food or feed the animals.
These implications have not been felt yet, but will play a role in what comes to market and what it costs to bring that food to market.
Local Farmer Solutions
At this point you are probably wondering how you are going to get meat at a decent price or get meat at all! You have been to the supermarkets and you have seen the shortages in the meat aisle. It can be very alarming.
The good news is, there are local farmers in your area that are growing food for your family, as we speak.
They likely setup shops each week at local farmer’s markets. Not only are these local farmers producing better quality meat, but they might even be looking for more customers.
Depending on your area, there might be many of these locations or only a few. Either way, now is a good time to do your research. You will pay extra for this meat then you are used to, but you will also have a direct connection to your local farmers.
If you don’t plan on farming livestock yourself, this will be your best option.
Look into local CSA programs or Community Supported Agriculture. These programs are literally designed to sell meats and vegetables directly to you and your family. These programs make a year long commitment to you with a certain number of shares. They commit to providing you with food for a year. If we see a continuation of processing plant closures, supermarkets will not be able to make that same commitment to you.
Scared citizens are making a concerted effort to buy up as much meat and other groceries as possible, to deal with the unknown future due to COVID-19. Processing plants are shutting down from the virus and traditional outlets for this meat are also being compromised, which is forcing these monolithic meat producers to shift pivot their processes.
This is all going to affect you. It’s going to affect you in weeks, not months. Do you have a plan for skyrocketing meat prices or empty meat departments?
Now is the time to start looking at plan B, C and D in terms of protein consumption for you and your family.