The prices we receive for what we grow have already dropped significantly in recent years thanks to tariffs and disease. Trade wars have jeopardized our long-standing connections with trusted suppliers and partners. African swine fever has decimated pig herds in Europe and Asia, eliminating the need for foods such as soybeans that their producers were sourcing from the United States.
But now the coronavirus pandemic has brought a new list of obstacles to overcome. Because schools closed in the United States this spring, the food that we would have provided for school lunch programs was no longer necessary. The pandemic has also delayed meat processing as many workers became ill, leaving many farmers with no place to bring in the cattle, pigs or chickens they had been feeding and ready for harvest. Low demand for oil has led to lower fuel costs, which helps when we fill up our gas tanks, but hurts our customers in the ethanol industry. Ethanol is produced from corn, and its use has decreased significantly due to weakened demand as a result of the recent oil price war and the fact that many Americans are still staying home.
The entire industry is reshaping itself. In recent years, Americans have gradually spent more money eating food outside the home than eating in their own kitchens. But when restaurants across the country were forced to close their doors, more Americans began cooking their meals at home.
As a result, the food supply chain has had to transform its packaging and delivery. Milk that was packed in small boxes for school lunches should now be packed in gallon containers that a family will consume together at home. The fresh fruits and vegetables that matured and were delivered to restaurants across the country were left in the fields with no immediate place to go. As the supply chain is forced to change, there has been a surplus of certain foods, forcing some farmers to shed excess and lose profits.
All of this has raised concerns that agricultural bankruptcies will continue to rise.
Some farmers with employees have taken advantage of the Paycheck Protection Program to help them fill some of the financial gaps, and the government has committed to providing another $ 16 billion in direct payments to farmers. The United States House recently approved a $ 3 trillion federal stimulus package that included special assistance for dairy farmers and specialty crop farmers, such as fruits and vegetables. But the United States Senate has not accepted this bill, and even if it passes, it will not solve the financial challenges facing food producers.
I appreciate the help of the federal government, but these are only temporary solutions. I firmly believe that the United States farmer is the most efficient producer of feed and livestock in the world. And if we have free and open markets, free of tariffs and other trade restrictions, I am confident that we can profitably feed a more populated world. What producers really need are open markets that work. I want to grow my crops and sell them to willing buyers, wherever they are. I want to exchange.
The coronavirus has taught us all that many things are beyond our control. However, farming is well within mine, so I hope to stay in the fields, doing my job at the start of another confusing new season.