By Mike McGinnis
While the livestock side of agriculture is fighting the spread of the coronavirus in its meatpacking plants, the agronomy side of the industry steams full speed ahead with planting this year’s crops.
Make no mistake, University of Illinois FarmdocDaily experts say, logistical impacts of the pandemic will be seen throughout agriculture. Discussions have already started about how the U.S. can produce needed agronomy products vs. sourcing them from other countries, namely China.
Like many commodities groups, agribusinesses, and universities, Farmdoc experts are holding a series of webinars focusing on the impacts of the coronavirus.
2020 Planting Products
This week, the topic highlighted food supply logistics and crop supply logistics for this year’s planting season.
Jeff Bunting, GrowMark’s crop protection manager, says that with this year’s seed supply in position, the focus shifts to crop protection movement.
The Illinois-based cooperative, ranked as the fourth-largest agricultural cooperative in the U.S., serves farmers through its FS System and 550 retail locations. To start the season, the company has used 35 different terminals to pull anhydrous ammonia. The long lines at these terminals reflect farmers’ intentions to plant large amounts of corn acres, Bunting says.
Since the coronavirus, GrowMark has changed how it distributes products.
“Instead of having products staged at our main locations, we are trucking products to the distribution locations of our commercial customers. The truck drivers have done a phenomenal job at getting our products to agribusiness and grocery businesses that we work with,” Bunting says.
Crop nutrients, seed and crop protection
With multiple source points, GrowMark sees few problems getting its customers what they need for this year’s planting season.
“As of Tuesday, 99% of the corn seed has been shipped from the company’s warehouse location to the retailers. And, the seed is in position to get to the farmer. For soybeans, 97% of the seed has been shipped and in position for the planting season,” Bunting says.
In addition, even though anhydrous demand is up, GrowMark has seen a last-minute run on soybean seed.
Crop Protection Supplies
Regarding crop protection, most of GrowMark’s actives that would be needed were stateside before the coronavirus outbreak, Bunting says.
“Getting those actives into production, packaged, and onto the market, I feel pretty good. My list of actives that I still need from China, right now, is pretty small. Also, we had a large carryover from 2019, because not as much corn or soybeans got planted. So, the crop protection inventory stayed in the warehouse – we still have that inventory to pull from for 2020. I feel pretty good about our ability to supply the farmer-customers the herbicide, insecticide, and pesticides they need for this year,” Bunting says.
Also, since China’s factories are starting to get back online from the pandemic, some of the crop protection actives needed will be available.
China produces 1.46 million tons of pesticides, 49% of the world’s usage.
Looking ahead to this year’s planting season, the likelihood of a bottleneck with logistics is going to be the challenge the industry faces, Bunting says.
“We’ve done a great job of staging products and getting them to the retailers. The question now becomes can we get to farmers what they want when they want it,” Bunting says. “We’re staying in close contact with our customers to think about the multi-segments of the season. We’re asking them what they will need for the next 30, 60, and 90 days. I feel confident that we have enough product to get the crop off to a good start. We may have to pivot and go to Plan B or Plan C.”
Bunting notes that truck drivers are driving long hours, warehouse workers are trying to practice social distancing, and everyone is trying to minimize any overall impact from coronavirus.
As far as how the crop protection industry looks post-coronavirus, there are more questions than answers at this point, Bunting says.
“We could see a delay in innovation and product sourcing,” Bunting says. “In the past two to three years, we’ve seen more domestic production of crop protection products, in an attempt to rely less on other countries.”
With the closings of numerous meatpacking plants, due to employee COVID-19 infections and deaths, the topic of the U.S. food supply chain is getting the attention of many.
It’s too early to tell if U.S. agriculture will see any regulatory changes due to the coronavirus pandemic, Bunting says.
“We’re stressing the use of hand sanitizer, the proper handling of ammonia and other nitrogen sources. But, short-term, I don’t see any changes,” Bunting says.
Irwin sees changes coming at the strategic and political levels.
“I think there will be tremendous pressure to diversify supply chains for critical items, particularly medicine and food. There will be a lot of rethinking about our crop protection and crop production materials that are linked to China. I think there will be pressure to rethink our relationship with China, and agriculture has a very large stake there,” Irwin says.