Markets take heavy hit from COVID-19 but optimism remains

Extreme weather, trade wars and the COVID-19 pandemic have made for troubling times in the agricultural industry, but a group of university researchers are asking if diversified farms have a leg up in facing such crisis.

“If you’re incorporating many different species on your farm – crops and animals – your farm may be more resilient against social, economic and environmental challenges,” said Teresa Warne, lab manager for the Montana State University Food and Health Lab in Bozeman, Montana.

She’s working with associates at the University of South Dakota and the University of Wyoming to conduct a survey with farmers and ranchers about impacts climate change and COVID-19 are having on the farm.

Warne has noted a change in the demand for lentils, a crop she studied for her master’s thesis. Since COVID-19 started impacting shopper’s habits at the grocery store, basic whole foods like rice and lentils have been in high demand, she said. Plant proteins also seem to be more popular as meat prices increase.

“Early on, in our own community grocery store, you could hardly find lentils,” she said. “People were scooping them up.”

Dr Selena Ahmed, co-Principle Investigator of the Food and Health Lab at Montana State, and the other universities make up WAFERx – the Water Agriculture Food Energy Research Nexus. It operates on a grant funded by the National Science Foundation, which studies food, water, energy, biodiversity and social systems in the context of environmental change.

“There’s a lot of information on sustainable climate solutions, and ag plays a large role,” Warne said.

The diversified farming survey, available at https://montana.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_8wzJdsvCAkBTLkV, aims to understand the role diversified farming plays in resilience and vulnerability in the food supply and farmers.

The survey includes questions regarding general farm demographics, agricultural practices and perceptions on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. It asks if you have changed your farming practices or the crops you’re growing this year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Other questions relating to COVID-19 include whether you are concerned about the pandemic’s impact on your farming, your diet or your community’s food security. It asks whether the pandemic has changed your household income or your overall anxiety.

It also asks people’s perception of diversified farming such as if there are benefits, challenges or tradeoffs. Does it make farms more resilient to drought and market volatility? Is it economically feasible?

The survey is open to farmers and ranchers in Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming. The team will be collecting responses through Aug. 4th. The group is hoping to reach farms of all sizes, both organic and conventional.

“We hope to compare and understand barriers and/or opportunities across the different states,” Warne said.

The survey’s 31 questions are grouped in five categories: farm background, effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, agricultural practices, diversified farming and food systems. It is an anonymous survey, should take 15-20 minutes to complete the survey, and a $15 gift card will be mailed when the survey closes.

For questions about the survey, email Warne at teresa.warne@montana.edu.

Janelle is editor of the Tri-State Neighbor, covering South Dakota, southwestern Minnesota, northwestern Iowa and northeastern Nebraska. Reach her at jatyeo@tristateneighbor.com or follow on Twitter @JLNeighbor