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Farmers struggle amid pandemic, do not qualify for programs

Farmers have felt the impact of the coronavirus pandemic as they have worked to keep residents fed and many have not been able to qualify for assistance programs.

Almost a year after the beginning of the pandemic, local farmers said the impact has been great.

"We have seen a big slowdown in the movement of goods from one source to another, either because of staff of truck drivers hauling the goods, or the amount of people needed to load them," said farmer Larry Kroeker, who grows almonds and pistachios.

Kroeker said that as far as his own farming business, he has had a few employees that have had to deal with the virus, with one of them off for over four months.

"We also had a couple more workers that had the virus and recovered with no issues," he said.

"The price of almonds has been greatly affected, with the price drastically lower than normal," said Michelle McManus, of Wilson Ag Company.

Farmers have put in place guidelines regarding preventative measures and safety practices in place to keep the workers safe and healthy.

"We have a lot of older workers, so one of our main goals and priorities was keeping them healthy and helping them with guidelines and prevention information," McManus said.

As farmers try to deal with the economic impacts of the virus, the government has offered them different programs to assist in the fight to stay open and producing.

A lot of the programs go by the individual company's income from the previous year.

"When we applied, they went off our income from 2019, which was a pretty good year. So, we did not qualify for a lot of the programs that are offered," Kroeker said.

Kroeker said that they will apply again this year, as they will take into account the "drastic drop" in income that was experienced in 2020.

The same goes for a lot of the farmers in the area, who have seen little or no assistance from the different programs offered.

McManus said, "We applied, but did not see much in assistance and didn't qualify for the majority of the programs offered."

The difference in crops can also affect each farmer's situation. Dairy farmers, with the majority of schools closed for most of the year in 2020, the milk market was very low, with millions of gallons of milk being destroyed. This was alleviated with the reopening of schools to distance learning and schools still supplying meals to students on a limited basis.

Many retailers are now open and running, such as Walmart and the big grocery chains, that get their supplies replenished from the farmers.

While retailers are able to gauge their economic status in real time, farmers have to look months in advance to gauge how their companies will be able to deal with the changing markets.

"Last year, the consumers were having trouble getting goods, which made the market very unstable, but with the supply available now, and the customers able to purchase them with no trouble, it has made everything a little more stable," said Kroeker.


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