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Commentary: A Pandemic Thanksgiving

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By Gary Truitt

It is easy to focus on what we do not have this Thanksgiving. For many of us, this includes not having a family gathering or even a traditional meal. Some of us are in quarantine while others are furloughed. Since March, many aspects of our lives and businesses have been turned upside down by the pandemic.   Terms like virtual, Zoom, and PPE have become part of our vocabulary. The term “2020” may well become an expletive in the years to come.  Yet, before we totally write off this year as a bad dream from which we hope to soon awaken, there are some bright spots for which to be grateful.

While much of the world has been disrupted, much of agriculture has not. We were able to plant early; and harvest was fast and, for the most part, uneventful. Some producers had disappointing yields, and others had above average or close to record yields. The livestock sector saw some disruption during the early days of the pandemic, and it has recovered and learned to adjust. Ag retailers have had to make adjustments, and most have figured out how to stay in business and serve their customers.

After difficult financial conditions early in the year, market prices that fell to below the cost of production, and forecasts of dismal export numbers, prices and balance sheets have improved as we come to the end of the year. USDA aid programs operated with surprising speed and efficiency and farmers actually got paid. China began to make purchases and export numbers climbed. World grain and oilseed stockpiles declined which bolstered higher prices in the futures market.

Some areas of agriculture are still waiting for recovery. The ethanol industry is still suffering with lockdowns in place and fuel demand low. The continued shuttering of restaurants has disrupted those who produce food for the food service sector. The closing of many schools also hurt an already ailing dairy industry.  Yet, compared with many other sectors, the farm economy has come through in relatively good shape.

This Thanksgiving, as we count the things we can be thankful for in our own families and farming operations, we need to focus on what did go right and on what did not get turned around in what has been a very unusual year.