Written by Mark Reamer Photo by Avid Visual Imagery
As many products remain difficult to find on store shelves due to industry-wide disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic, retail chains are working closely with local and federal government officials to assist in combating the spread of the virus while trying to maintain as a varied selection of items as possible. It hasn’t always been easy. While many products became more readily available as May progressed, others have remained difficult to find. Meat proteins have been especially impacted. Mass shortages due to processing plant closures and reduced capacity due either to illness or new safety protocols have been extensive throughout the industry.
On Friday, May 8th Vice President Michael Pence met with executives at Hy-Vee at the Ron Pears Center in West Des Moines Iowa to discuss the situation. Mr. Pence was joined by the United States Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, and Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst as well as Hy-Vee CEO Randy Edecker and other members of the Hy-Vee leadership team.
“The food supply in America has remained strong,” said Pence. “It was this industry that said: ‘We’re going to get the job done for Americans and keep food on the table.’ It’s truly remarkable what you’ve done”.
Secretary Perdue expanded on the Vice President’s comments calling the industries efforts to respond “a miraculous effort”. Saying “I think we’ve turned the corner. the (food supply) chain is sound and solid.”
Senator Ernst said, “It’s essential to every individual to have food on their table. We have a lot more people who now understand the effort that goes into getting it there.” The Senator went on to propose a new ‘White House Office of Supply Chain’ whose goal would be to educate people about the process involved in getting food to grocery stores for families to buy.
Zippy Duvall, President of the American Farm Bureau Federation, (also in attendance) stated, “This is not a supply issue. It is a supply chain issue.”
Governor Reynolds made a plea to the federal delegation on behalf of the farmers and ranchers of Iowa saying, “I want to take this opportunity, though, since I;ve got the Secretary of Ag here and the Vice President here, to just say we’re extremely grateful for the CARES Act, (which provides funding assistance for farmers and ranchers) I want to take a look at the payment limitation and asking if those (can) be lifted to serve all of our Iowa producers.”
Vice President Pence promised to take the concerns and ideas he heard expressed at the meeting back to Washington.
On May 19th President Donald J. Trump announced a proposal to assist Agriculture Producers entitled CFAP (Coronovirus Food Assistance Program). The proposal calls for $16 billion to be allocated in the federal budget for the support of agriculture. $3 billion of which would be earmarked for the federal government to directly purchase agricultural commodities and donate them to food banks across the nation.
If the shelves at your local supermarket are still looking a little sparse, just hang in there a little longer. The USDA has announced that 14 processing plants that closed during the crisis have solid reopening dates quickly approaching. Incrementally, things will continue to improve. Everybody, from the farmers and ranchers to the Vice President of the United States, is working to make just that happen.