Area Farmers Are Adapting Amid Outbreak
The outbreak of the coronavirus has been a source of concern and increased buying at grocery stores and food markets across the country.
The impact has been felt by local farmers, who have adapted to the changing marketplace and are continuing to produce safe and healthy products for consumers.
“The grocery store shelves, we have seen some interruptions in our supply chains, but rest assured that safe food is being produced and will be continually available,” said Lisa Kempisty, Cornell Cooperative Extension educator for dairy and livestock. “Farming is continuing and farming is very busy right now with preparing for our upcoming growing season for the produce farmers. Dairy farmers are continuing to farm, livestock farmers are continuing to farm. They are taking extra precautions, having to do with the (Centers For Disease Control and Prevention) recommendations with keeping everyone healthy. Food is being produced as it always has been, continuing with production and safety in mind for that food.”
Kempisty explained that there are different supply chains for different food products, which can affect availability at different locations throughout Western New York.
While there are livestock and produce farms that can sell directly to customers, dairy products take a different route from farm to table.
“Locally we do not have any dairy farmers who sell their products directly to consumers. All of that milk is processed through a milk handler,” Kempisty said, noting that there have been some disruptions of that supply chain.
“It was a supply and demand situation (for dairy products). Consumers were buying more dairy products or more of this or that product, and that is why the shelves became bare. We just need to reassure people that there is food in food chain coming to the store near them. Also, the fact that farmers continue to farm and they are producing these products.”
Local dairy farmers sell their milk to cooperatives and handlers, who then process the milk into different products before it hits grocery store shelves.
“There is plenty of product out there if the processors just get it to the stores,” said Jack Jones of J-High Acres Farm in the town of Carroll.
Jones and his family milk approximately 450 head of cattle, and work with a dairy cooperative based out of Steamburg.
“My wife is at the store this morning and there is a limit on butter. You can only get two butters. That’s ludicrous, there is product out there, they just have to get it to the store,” Jones said. “I know a friend of mine said he was at Tops on Saturday and said there was only 3 gallons of milk, and they weren’t going to get any more milk until Monday.”
Jones said the disruption in supply is due to the challenges of getting milk from dairy farms, to producers, to store shelves.
Kempisty said if there are any staffing issues at cooperatives and producers, that can impact the availability of dairy products at stores. Dairy farmers become concerned if disruptions in the supply chain force the dumping of milk before it can be processed.
“There is no shortage of product but it is putting quite a lot of stress on the area’s dairy farmers, especially if you have to start dumping milk,” Kempisty said. “That is very expensive because none of our fixed costs stop. The electric bill keeps going, the feed bill wants to get paid. I’m spreading fertilizer right now, that has to get done.”
The impact of coronavirus has been felt differently by farmers producing livestock. Steve Rockcastle of Green Heron Growers in Sherman has seen a rise in demand for local chicken and beef during the last few weeks.
“That’s been quite phenomenal actually,” Rockcastle said. “We’ve always said that we are a local foods farm, depending on local people. But we usually have to go to Buffalo in order to sell our product because people just choose not to purchase as much around here. That totally turned around with people knowing what we do and the fact that we have (in stock) what we did. A lot of people locally jumped on the bandwagon with purchasing, so it’s been great. We had a pretty large inventory at the time this all came about. We’ve been able to service just about anybody that has wanted something.”
In addition to offering products at their farm store, Green Heron also works with winter farmers markets in Fredonia and Buffalo during this season. The indoor Buffalo market has been closed due to the coronavirus, while Fredonia remains open.
In response, Rockcastle has been making shipments to Buffalo, and has also seen a rise in at-home deliveries.
“We also sell out of our farm store and then we have a website, an online farm store,” Rockcastle said. “You can go online and order from there and what we’ve been doing is just delivery drop-offs. Putting it on people’s doorsteps, they’ll put a cooler out on the porch and we’ll throw it in the cooler or something like that. So there is no interaction and people can still get product.”
Green Heron had always offered at-home delivery, but had not received as many orders through that service prior to the outbreak.
“It’s a rude awakening when something like this hits and then you go to the grocery store and you are used to buying stuff at the grocery store,” Rockcastle said. “That is where you depend on the local food industry because we’re there for you, and that is how we make a living. Hopefully what will spur out of this is more local people coming to buy our products.”
Rockcastle, Kempisty and Jones are all hopeful that the outbreak can have a positive impact locally, if customers take it upon themselves to support area farmers. The Cornell Cooperative Extension offers a full listing of where to buy local food at chautauqua.cce.cornell.edu/chautauqua-grown.
“This is something that consumers can actually go to and find contact information from names, phone numbers, farm names, locations etc. They can connect with local farmers to purchase local products,” Kempisty said, recommending that customers call ahead to local producers before making purchases.
Regardless of the duration of the outbreak, farmers will continue their work to keep people fed.
“I’m a very optimistic person, you have to be during this thing we’ve got going on here,” Jones said. “Mother Nature is our boss, not a virus. When the sun shines, we’ve got to go.”