For better or worse, the 2020 spring planting season will be memorable. As strip-tillers prepare for planting — with some already getting into the field — it’s difficult to dismiss the internal and external influences that are reshaping the ag industry.
But one of the constant sentiments shared throughout recent conversations I’ve had with farmers, dealers, manufacturers, agronomists and academic researchers is optimism.
Some skew more to the cautious side of the spectrum, while others are candidly confident that “this too, shall pass,” and everyone will be the better from it. A recent online poll conducted by Strip-Till Farmer and No-Till Farmer asked our audiences to forecast the impact the coronavirus pandemic will have on farm management and operational goals this spring.
The leading concern was 25% of respondents suggesting the virus will contribute to a further downturn in commodity prices. Another 20% anticipate delayed or limited access to farm equipment, parts and timely service from dealerships, which will lead to down time.
Both dealers and strip-tillers acknowledge the potential disruption of the supply chain, but on the cusp of spring planting, nobody I talked to had encountered significant service delays or equipment shortages.
If anything, it’s been adjusting to modified delivery — doorstep drop-offs instead of in-person pick-ups, social distancing during on-farm visits and closing conversations with a wave vs. a handshake.
“As farmers, we get used to doing things a certain way,” says Watertown, Wis., no-tiller Tony Peirick. “Normally, when I need things like check valves or clamps, I visit a shop and take the part in to make sure I get the right thing. But this time I had to use the catalog and order by phone.”
“Farmers are an optimistic bunch by nature and we’re trying to maintain a business as usual mentality…”
When he went to pick up his supplies, he found his order had been left outside for him to pick up as the shop wasn’t allowing customers in the building. Turns out he got the right check vales, but the clamps weren’t quite right and he ended up having to do some welding to get them to work.
“That in-person attention at the shops is hard to replace with a phone call,” he says.
Another 16% of poll respondents were concerned about a scarcity or delay in sourcing inputs from retailers and suppliers and about 12% were worried about a farm employee or themselves getting sick. Only 5% forecast the pandemic having little or no impact on their spring planting. But at the same time, spring planting has provided a sense of normalcy in an abnormal world.
“Farmers are an optimistic bunch by nature and we’re trying to maintain a business as usual mentality,” says Pete Youngblut, owner of Youngblut Ag in Dysart, Iowa, and scheduled speaker at the 2020 National Strip-Tillage Conference this summer.
“I’m not seeing panic so much as caution. But we all still have a job to do this spring and ag is essential.”