One of the largest farmworker unions in the US says early polling of farm laborers suggests operators of some of the nation’s largest fresh produce farms aren’t taking steps to protect fieldworkers from the spread of Covid-19. That’s worrying news for a food supply chain that experts, so far, have described as robust and resilient in the face of the disease caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2.
The nature of how the coronavirus spreads—from person to person, through droplets from coughs or sneezes, and transferred on surfaces—means that outbreaks have concentrated first in densely-populated urban and suburban zones. But it will reach rural farming areas on a delay (pdf), according to data collected (and visualized over time) by the University of Iowa’s Rural Policy Research Institute.
That means any farmers who have not been proactive about protecting their workers may have already unwittingly invited the virus into the food supply chain.
CHICAGO (Reuters) – Dairy farmer Jason Leedle felt his stomach churn when he got the call on Tuesday evening.
“We need you to start dumping your milk,” said his contact from Dairy Farmers of America (DFA), the largest U.S. dairy cooperative.
Despite strong demand for basic foods like dairy products amid the coronavirus pandemic, the milk supply chain has seen a host of disruptions that are preventing dairy farmers from getting their products to market.
Mass closures of restaurants and schools have forced a sudden shift from those wholesale food-service markets to retail grocery stores, creating logistical and packaging nightmares for plants processing milk, butter and cheese. Trucking companies that haul dairy products are scrambling to get enough drivers as some who fear the virus have stopped working. And sales to major dairy export markets have dried up as the food-service sector largely shuts down globally.