How This Pandemic Is Affecting Some of Our Essential Businesses

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In these uncertain times surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, agriculture and forestry personnel have been deemed essential. Some people ask why are these personnel essential and not me? Why are many of us forced to stay home while others can continue to go to work unabated? The answer is simple. We cannot survive without food and fiber. Grocery stores need a continuous supply of food and paper products to sell to US citizens. Important construction projects need a continuous supply of lumber. We need farming and forestry to continue our daily lives. 

Even though these two sectors have been deemed essential, things are not all rosy right now. The United States farmer and logger are connected to the world market. We export to other countries, import from around the globe; which in turn affect supply, demand and price points of commodities. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, commodity prices such as corn and cotton have dropped dramatically. Leaving many farmers trying to decide if they can afford to farm this year or if they will have to close, like many other small businesses across the world. Equipment costs, input costs and labor costs have not dropped, but commodity prices have. Farmers have seen prices drop many times before and we all hope that prices will quickly rebound, before harvest season. 

The wood products market is starting to slow as well. Construction has not halted but it has slowed down. Hopefully we can squash this pandemic quickly and get the economy back going again. Many sawmills are closing for maintenance during this pandemic, others are cutting way back on production, others are not sure what to do; hoping that their work force will remain healthy so that they can stay open. The pulp and paper markets seem to be ok for now. Many of these mills have seen a dramatic increase in orders, due to so many Americans staying home and utilizing more paper products, such as pizza boxes. 

We will get through this pandemic together. We will all go back to work and eventually life will return to normal. Perhaps our local agriculture and forest product personnel and business owners will prosper during this time. Hopefully, commodity prices will rebound, raw commodity orders will increase and we can return to normal life sooner rather than later. 

Mitchell Williams is Agriculture Agent for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.