The global pandemic is having a range of impacts on farmers, farmworkers and the food supply, exposing food insecurity around the world and revealing vulnerabilities in both food production and access.
The pandemic also makes tragically clear how dependent we all are on safe, reliable and healthy sources of food and on the wellbeing of those who grow, harvest, process and distribute it. It also demonstrates how the centralized supply chain of our industrialized food system leaves us vulnerable to the effects of both climate disruption and disease.
Farmers, ranchers, and farmworkers are foundational to the U.S. food supply chain and have been declared essential workers during the pandemic. Many are now scrambling to adopt new workplace safety protocols, respond to dramatically altered markets and seek federal relief to stay in business.
Those working and managing vital farmlands are already on the frontlines of climate change, They are not just dealing with the effects of the pandemic but also bracing themselves for the seasonal impacts of climate disruption, which include wildfires and the resulting smoke damage.
In a future with higher temperatures and altered precipitation patterns, ranchers wil need to consider new management options for grazing shorter or less‐reliable seasons. Winegrowers will need to find ways to reduce heat stress in their fruit or face lower values for their products.
Climate disruptions will also create hotspots of unpredictable labor needs where climate vulnerable crops ifail. Farmworkers will be subject to more heat stress and wildfire smoke, and in some areas climate change will undoubtedly lead to an increased use of pesticide. All these converging crises point to the need for strengthened environmental protocols, immigration reform, health care development, and labor reform for farmworkers.
The pandemic shows us that disruptions in our food system can have far-reaching effects. While farmers can be skilled at adapting to change in the short term, most utilize practices that operate on a longer-term time horizon. Despite the harsh new economic conditions imposed by the pandemic these stressed farmers must continue to do their best to employ the soil stewardship, carbon sequestration, crop rotations, and other ecological practices that are so vital in the face of climate change.