The agricultural production system was not prepared for the initial outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Crops were left in the field or plowed under because of decreased demand. Loads of milk were even dumped.
Scott Angle, Vice President for Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Florida/IFAS hopes farmers and agricultural leaders can learn from last season’s initial outbreak.
“But we’ve learned a valuable lesson in agriculture that we need to be much better prepared for the next pandemic. We know there’s going to be another one someday,” Angle said. “We just don’t know when or what. We were not ready for this one in the way we should have been.”
Preparing for 2021 Season
As a new season dawns for Florida row crop farmers and those who specialize in vegetable and specialty crops, producers have a chance to improve their farming operations amid the ongoing pandemic that continues to wreak havoc across the country.
“We learned over the past couple of months, particularly in agriculture and in particular when COVID first reared its ugly head, that our farming system was not very resilient. It was not as well protected as we would hope it would be, whether it’s in the packing sheds or in the fields or with migrant workers or with our own workers,” Angle said.
“We found out there were lots of holes in the system. As workers became infected with the virus some of those production systems began to collapse. It was very hard to get them back up and going again. We all read stories about crops being plowed in their fields or milk being dumped or beef going unprocessed because there was no one to do the work.”
Following the pandemic’s initial outbreak last March, UF/IFAS began implementing trainings that better educated farmers and helped answer valuable questions: What can be done in the field? What can be done in the packing shed? What can be done in a processing plant to keep workers safe?
“A lot of the basic fundamental education is going on literally as we speak. There’s still some research needed. How can we set up a processing plant where we can do a better job of isolating the workers from one another, so they won’t be passing the disease around?” Angle said.
While no one is certain how much longer this pandemic will last, there is certainty that UF/IFAS will be on the front lines with its team of scientists and Extension personnel educating farmers and industry leaders.
“We’re going to come out of this a lot stronger, healthier and better able to react to the next pandemic or natural disaster. How do we recover from it? We’ve learned a lot about the recovery stage for the pandemic. Many lessons learned,” Angle said. “We’ll all be sitting down collectively as a society when this is all done and trying to figure out what worked, what didn’t and what do we need to change?”