2020: The Year in Review

Dec 31, 2020  | 7 min  | Ep4620

COVID-19 will long be known as the dominant story of 2020.

The virus impacted nearly everything in the world including livelihoods in rural America. Those who provide food from gate to plate was a real-time audible in logistics to handle the changes in supply and demand.

Peter Tubbs has our look back at the biggest stories of the 366 days of 2020.

The COVID-19 virus first emerged from Wuhan, China, in December 2019 and was carried to nearly every corner of the globe in the following months. 
Various forms of lockdowns, travel bans and restrictions were meant to flatten the curve, but they also slowed the global economy.
Still in March, Congress and the White House approved billions in spending, both to combat the spread of the virus and assist in treating its victims, who required specialized techniques.
The New York Stock Exchange dropped over thirty percent during a four week fall in February and March. 
The restaurant industry took an immediate hit that lingered for months after. Dining rooms went dark and less profitable take-out options emerged as “curb-service” became the norm.
Americans were now cooking for themselves, and the food supply chain tried to adjust in real-time. Empty shelves appeared where some food staples were snapped up in addition to cleaning supplies and toilet paper. Sales at the meat counter jumped 50 percent. Americans filled their freezers just as packing houses were forced to slow or stop their lines as COVID-19 outbreaks ran through slaughterhouses. More than one thousand plants reported infections among their employees.
Many packers cancelled contracts on animals ready for delivery. Independent lockers absorbed some of the surplus, but prices for live cattle dropped even as demand for retail beef skyrocketed.
4534 Dan Loy, Iowa Beef Center: “…early in the outbreak, when the restaurants were closing, we saw a run on beef in the grocery stores so actually boxed beef prices increased by a significant percentage so that gap between what the producers were seeing, which tended to follow the futures in terms of prices, and the boxed beef prices has been historically large.”
That price gap would lead to record profits for beef processors as the pandemic continued. 
4537 Mike Paustian/President - Iowa Pork Producers’ Association: “Just in Iowa, we're estimating that there's about 40,000 pigs per day that are not going to market that should be. The reality is it’s just a drop in the bucket compared to the magnitude of the backlog we’re generating here.”
Dairy producers were forced to dump milk as processors lowered buying for places like schools that were suddenly closed.    
4534 Paul Bauer, Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery: “We have sent a notice out to our farmers that were looking for a 7% drop in milk by April 15th. We have cranked up our plants to 100 percent. After April 15th, we'll probably have to start dumping some milk.” 
      Some produce was left in the field, as it had no buyer.
Sec. Sonny Perdue/ U.S. Department of Agriculture: "I want to be clear, the bare store shelves that you may see in some cities in the country are demand issue, not a supply issue.”
An April Congressional relief bill sent $16 billion in direct payments to producers and another $2 billion to buy up excess farm products for food banks.
The shift of school locations from buildings to bedrooms prompted districts to provide drive-up meals for children who qualify for free and reduced meals that were unintentionally cut-off from some of the only food they receive during the day. 
23 million Americans found themselves unemployed, spiking demand at the nation’s food banks. 
Stephen Kreins, Operations Manager, Queen Anne Food Bank: "Yeah, we've been seeing our clientele go up in the past week and our volunteers have been staying home because of the coronavirus.”
By August, the economy would need another round of relief spending from Congress. 
Despite trade disruptions ahead of and in 2020, farm incomes are predicted to grow by 22 percent from 2019 levels to reach $102 billion. According to data from the consulting firm Agricultural Economic Insights, direct farm payments will make up 36 percent of net farm income in 2020.
A third wave of COVID-19 infections in the fall spread through the Midwest and rural states, areas which had largely avoided broad infections and deaths. As of late December, North and South Dakota had a COVID fatality rate similar to New York and New Jersey, states which suffered early in the pandemic.
COVID-19 stole momentum from an American economy that was gaining momentum as it began the year, and looked to improve after the signing of the USMCA trade agreement in January.
After nearly two years of posturing and tit for tat tariff hikes, the United States and China signed Phase One of a trade deal. The trade pact put a pause on the boiling struggle of issues between the two countries. 
Liu He, Vice Premier of China: “This is a mutually beneficial and win-win agreement. It will bring about stable economic growth, promote world peace and prosperity and is in the interest of the producers, consumers and investors in both countries.”
The agreement required China to purchase $40 billion in American agricultural goods in 2020 and 2021. As the year drew to a close, China was not on pace to meet their 2020 purchasing goal.
Like most years, a weather event left a path of destruction. 
  In August a storm packing triple digit wind speeds laid waste to Iowa’s corn crop. The derecho, or straight line wind storm, leveled what was expected to be a record crop with winds topping 100 miles per hour. An estimated ten million acres were damaged or destroyed in five states along a 770 mile path.
Sec. Mike Naig, Iowa Department of Agriculture: “The damage is widespread, and the damage is real. I've walked in fields that are absolutely laying flat. I've walked in fields that are half flat and corn is leaning over it. Harvest is going to be a great challenge for folks.”
Hurricane season brought 30 total storms, with an extraordinary 12 U.S. landfalls during the busiest hurricane season on record. Combined damages were estimated at over $45 billion. 
  While the Southeast was pummeled with hurricane- driven rain, the western half of the country slid deeper into drought. The lack of moisture helped fuel massive wildfires across the West, burning over 8 million acres.
The political winds shifted against the White House in November as Joe Biden won the popular vote by eight million votes and by 74 electoral votes. 
The former vice president selected former USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack for another term in the same office.
For Market to Market, I’m Peter Tubbs

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