JOHNSON COUNTY, Ind – Hoosier farmers struggling through the COVID-19 pandemic and stay-at-home order are eagerly awaiting details on a federal aid package that could include billions of dollars in direct payments.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary, Sonny Perdue said Wednesday he has a plan ready to deliver to President Trump within the next couple days. The plan would go to help producers in all sectors of the agriculture industry, he said.
“We think probably about 16 billion will probably go directly to producers,” Perdue said. “And then about 2 billion in taking product off the market; excess product, milk, pork, protein.”
In the meantime, the outlook for Indiana farmers who are just getting ready to plant their crops. Demand for many products they produce is being dragged down during the coronavirus outbreak.
Kyle Kephart, who farms 900 acres in Johnson County, says the low price of fuel is hurting the price of corn and soybeans.
“People aren’t driving, there’s not a need for ethanol, so all of that is driving our markets down,” Kephart said. “Before the COVID hit this spring, we were looking at $3.75, $3.80 corn for the fall. And current price right now, we’re talking just barely above 3 dollars.”
Kephart also has family in the livestock industry and says they’re being hurt even more.
“Pork is big in restaurants, schools are huge for the dairy industry,” he said. “So, I think everything is connected one way or the other, so when things start falling it’s bad for everyone.”
Michael Langemeier, a professor of agriculture economics at Purdue University, believes the effect of COVID-19 will linger months after the number of positive cases begin to decline.
“It’s going to take a while for us to get back some of that demand that has really slowed down,” Langemeier said.
Langemeier believes most farmers will be able to cover their variable costs during planting, but overhead costs like time, labor, land and machinery will be more difficult to cover.
“So, the returns on their time, labor is going to be very small,” Langemeier said. “The returns on land ownership and machinery ownership are going to be very small. And so that’s where the pinch is going to hit. And it certainly is going to impact their ability to repay debt in the fall, and their ability to replace machinery and equipment in the fall.”
Kephart still intends to plant a full crop in the weeks to come. He says he’ll be leaning on faith, like farmers always do.
“I’ve always been told that farmers are one of the biggest business owners in faith,” Kephart said. “I mean, we put a crop out every year in the ground and we hope that we get some sunshine and rain and we have some prices in the fall and some bushels to go with it. So, yeah we’re going to put our faith out there again and plant a crop.”