The COVID-19 pandemic is in the news every day -- even every hour. Americans follow daily infection rates as many follow the ups and downs of the Dow Jones Industrial Average. But not much is heard from rural America in this era of global pandemic. In a nationwide rural poll commissioned by DTN/Progressive Farmer with Zogby Analytics, rural adults and farmers said the virus has deep and unnerving impacts.
The social centers where farmers and their families gather -- schools, restaurants, churches, farm supply retail, associations -- have all been upended. Fifty-five percent said it affected their ability to interact with family, friends and neighbors. Forty-three percent said it directly affected their families.
That children are at home instead of school has at times been vexing to smooth management -- for farm owners and farm employees. Twenty-six percent of farmers and ranchers said COVID-19 made it more difficult to work, because children are not in school or competing in sports. Twenty-seven percent said COVID-19 made it more difficult to find and retain employees.
"Who would have thought that 12 months ago we would all be wearing masks, shutting down churches and schools?" asked Jeff Wuebker, a large producer of pork from Versailles, Ohio, and supporter of President Donald Trump.
COVID-19 has deeply affected his operation. Wuebker's wife, Misty, is an ag teacher in the local school district. Classrooms first closed in March. The fall opening was virtual. She manages through days with "lots of 'no's' to deal with," he said.
Wuebker's college-aged son, Jacob, "finished his year in one of our tractors" after his classes were shuttered. Jacob is now farming full-time on the family operation -- one result of COVID-19 that's not too disappointing overall for Wuebker. "He wants to learn [farming], to make decisions. I'm blessed he wants to do it."
The virus disrupted normal commerce. Forty-eight percent said it negatively affected grain and livestock prices. Forty-one percent said it has been more difficult to obtain parts, services and inputs. One-quarter said the pandemic has made it more difficult to transport grain and livestock.
Roughly a quarter of surveyed farmers said that the COVID-19 outbreak has affected their ability to earn off-farm income (28%). Close to half of surveyed farmers (45%) claim off-farm income.
"My concern is domestic consumption," said Wuebker. "Restaurants are closed or have limited capacity. Consumers (of pork) are unfamiliar with cooking pork at home." Sixty percent of domestic demand for pork is from restaurants, hotels, schools and nursing homes. "When that is diminished, that makes me real concerned. We need to get the economy back in gear to get through this coronavirus."
HOW SURVEY WAS DONE
The survey included 1,008 adults living in rural counties and 120 completed surveys from the Progressive Farmer subscriber list. The margin of error is plus/minus 2.9 percentage points. This is the fourth election-year poll, going back to 2012, that Progressive Farmer has conducted with Zogby.
Twenty-nine percent of respondents farm or have members of their families who farm. Forty percent identify as Republicans, 23% as Democrats and 36% as Independents. The majority of respondents are under 54 years old; 80% are white and 11% are Hispanic. Fifty-five percent are married. Respondents are evenly split between male and female. Responses came most frequently from the Great Lakes region -- 37% of the total -- from the South (27%) and from the West (22%).
For more on the DTN/Progressive Farmer Zogby Analytics Election poll, visit: https://www.dtnpf.com/….
Dan Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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