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Farming struggles continue amid the COVID-19 pandemic

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TAZEWELL COUNTY, Va (WVVA) - The COVID-19 pandemic is literally hitting the United States in the bread basket, interrupting the farm to table food chain. Farmers are being hit as hard as any industry. For example, it's caused the price of cattle to plummet.

"Agriculture and forestry accounts for 91 billion dollars in the state of Virginia. That's a lot of money. And we as cattle farmers are an important part of that."

Emily Edmondson, Virginia Farm Bureau

Farming isn't immune to the effects coronavirus is having on the economy. Those effects are showing up right in the Two Virginias. The COVID-19 surge spikes are causing a "log jam" in the beef and cattle chain. It's causing slaughter houses to shut down.

The farming industry is about supply and demand. The supply of meat continues to increase and at the same time the demand for meat is decreasing. Restaurant restrictions are playing a major role.

"A lot of restaurants have closed down and many people are not out eating the prime cuts of meat because they are not going out to have the steak at the restaurant and because of that we have seen a reduction in the price of beef and these fat cattle."

John Blankenship, Extension Agent in Tazewell County, Agriculture & Natural Resources

It all starts with the farmers. One group raises the cattle to up to about 600 pounds. They are then sold to other cattle farmers at the feed lots, where farmers with bigger fields then raise the cattle to market size, which is about 1,200 pounds.

Fully mature cattle are then sold to meat packers and/or slaughter houses. The beef is then processed and transported to the many businesses across the U.S.. Interruptions in this chain causes economic backups.

"Farmers who can't sell their cattle and can't get the price that they need are going to go out of business, declare bankruptcy, they have to sell."

Emily Edmondson, Virginia Farm Bureau

The extension agent in Tazewell County says the market is experiencing a reduction of 8-10% in the prices of their feeder cattle. Farmers who choose to raise the cattle to market maturity take on "extreme cost," like buying hay throughout the winter, which takes he farmers out of their normal cycle.

"It is really hard to adjust the time that you are marketing these animals because if you are setup to work in the feeder calve stage, you are setup to sell at the end of that stage. If you are setup to work in the fat cattle market, where you are in the feed lots. Once those animals are finished in the feed lots, they have to have a place to go."

John Blankenship, Extension Agent in Tazewell County, Agriculture & Natural Resources

The Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) did give farmers a $16 billion boost last year. There were two phases of stimulus relief payments for farmers in 2020.

One payment came in the spring and another in the fall. A total of 750 applications for help, filed by farmers, were filled out in the state of Virginia. It's the most applications out of any U.S. state.

"A lot of them were thinking i will just sell out and get out of the business. Well, this kind of maybe helped them stay in business another year or something like that, which is pretty good for the farming business."

Jimmy Durham, Member of the Farming Services Agency

CFAP is the first livestock program ever and Durham says the program may have saved a lot of farms from bankruptcy.

Brandon Lawson

Weekend Meteorologist

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