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COVID-19 Forces Illinois Agriculture To Adapt

judy dean via Flickr
CC BY 2.0

The new coronavirus pandemic has affected how and even when Illinoisans buy food from grocery stores. But the virus has also impacted the farmers working to keep that supply chain running.

Krista Swanson and her family manage an average-sized farm and run a seed business in Knox County. To keep social distance with her customers, she’s waived the usual signatures required when seed shipments are delivered.

It’s one of several ways the pandemic has altered the way Illinois farmers do business.

“Maybe we’re a little bit more used to dealing with unpredictable situations, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that making those changes is easier,” Swanson explained.

Swanson said she has managed to plant crops within the last few weeks at her Knox County farm, as spring planting season has only just begun. But producers across Illinois have already been facing challenges that are now being compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The latest public health guidelines, Swanson explained, can make it difficult to for some to plant crops and manage livestock operations.

“Farmers are normally really good at social distancing, particularly farmers who don’t need to rely on a lot of labor to operate their farms,” she said. “But this time of year, we have to do more interacting than normal to get the inputs we need.”

There may be a bit of a silver lining to the pandemic, Swanson reasons. She said grocery store customers are now demanding more meat and dairy products, both of which were sagging in recent years.

But this could shape up to be a tough growing season either way. According to researchers at the University of Illinois, the U.S. is behind on its corn and soybean export quotas by hundreds of millions of bushels. Weather, as in most years, may also be a challenge.

Swanson said she sees no reason to panic, though. Illinois’ food supply chain is still strong, thanks largely to those keeping it going.

“You know, be grateful for all those who are working to ensure our needs are met, whether that’s at the food level...other necessities, and everything else in between,” she said.

Sam is a Public Affairs Reporting intern for spring 2018, working out the NPR Illinois Statehouse bureau.
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