From American corn producers to French beekeepers, the coronavirus is forcing farmers to shift their production line.
Agriculture, one of the oldest forms of human subsistence, is facing the heat of the pandemic as farmers across the world are changing their ways to cultivate soil.
American corn producers are shifting from corn to soybeans as ethanol production is facing a major decline in light of the pandemic. With people being forced to stay at home, energy markets are in turmoil, diminishing the demand for ethanol.
Ethanol, which is mostly extracted from corn, is used as an alternative fuel to run cars. Most ethanol plants are located across American Midwest because much of the country’s corn production is concentrated there.
Most cars on the US roads run with a 10 percent mixture of ethanol. Ethanol-blended fuel is commonly used in Brazil and several European countries as well.
“The impact on the ethanol industry has been swift and sharp. Deeply negative operating margins and falling consumption have led to dramatic cuts in ethanol production,” wrote Renewable Fuels Association, in a report published in late April.
“For the week ended April 10, ethanol production was 44 percent below the same time in 2019, hitting the lowest level since the EIA (US Energy Information Administration) began reporting statistics in 2010,” the report said.
It has estimated huge losses for the US ethanol industry, amounting to more than $10 billion as the sector’s contribution to gross domestic product could decline by nearly one-third.
“It’s survival of the fittest right now; we’re doing everything we can to make sure we survive,” said Bret Davis, an American farmer from Ohio, referring to challenges the US agricultural sector faces as the pandemic rages across the country.
Many American farmers find the virus trouble unbearable, especially after bearing the brunt of a heavy spell of rainfall last year and ongoing trade wars between Washington and China.
“We had trade issues, we had terrible issues with floods, now coronavirus. Three strikes and you’re out,” Dennis Verbeck, a corn and soybean farmer from Illinois told the Wall Street Journal.
According to the Food & Agricultural Policy Research Institute at the University of Missouri, US farm income could be declined as much as $20 billion, which corresponds to 19 percent reduction in 2020, and the ethanol industry’s losses play a considerable role in that.
Pains of French beekeepers
In France, beekeeping, another agricultural sector, is also suffering under the pressure of the pandemic.
"Covid-19 and the lockdown are killing thousands of beekeepers' livelihoods. They are the victims of unsold honey and closed farmer's markets,” said Francis Gruzelle, one of approximately 75,000 beekeepers of France.
One-fifth of the French beekeepers have already quit under various pressures and now with the pandemic more will follow the suit, according to the French beekeeper.
“It is a catastrophe. Covid-19 is finishing off beekeepers, who are already crushed by insecticides, pesticides, decimated bee colonies, and spiralling production costs," Gruzelle said.
But the shutdowns have also created some opportunities for other French farmers, who have found some creative ways to sell their vegetables and fruits, using modern delivery methods.
"The residents prefer to buy local products instead of going to a supermarket. This is also an opportunity for fruit and vegetable producers to work,” Corinne Barret, an NGO leader from Lyon, told Euronews.
The increase in local French agricultural production was quick to prove beneficial, as it reduced the country’s vegetable and fruit imports, which have previously hovered around 40 percent.
“The fruit and vegetables continue to grow, it would be a shame to waste them and not to harvest the crops," Barret said.