Recently, farm groups led by the California Farm Bureau Federation commissioned an extensive study of the impact of coronavirus-related lockdowns on the state’s agriculture industry. What the research found wasn’t pretty.
Produced by Davis-based ERA Economics, the report estimated that pandemic-related losses to California farms, ranches and agricultural businesses will range between $5.9 billion and $8.6 billion this year.
As of mid-June, the state’s agricultural sector had already suffered $2 billion in losses from disrupted markets and rising production costs. The hardest-hit agribusinesses were those that rely on food service for their livelihoods; the dairy industry could lose as much as $2.3 billion by year’s end, according to the study.
When it comes to feeling the pain from forced business closures and stay-at-home orders, agriculture is hardly alone. According to a CNBC report in May, the loss of tax revenue was slated to leave California with a budget shortfall of $54.3 billion – a stark reversal from a year ago, when the state claimed a $21 billion surplus.
Because of an effective ban on businesses deemed “nonessential,” some 7.5 million Californians are jobless. Those who needed unemployment benefits have found the doors to state employment development offices locked, and applicants report making dozens or even hundreds of calls a day to the state agency without getting through. Some have had to wait months for their first payment.
But none of these numbers seem to concern the governor’s office in Sacramento. Citing a spike in COVID-19 cases, Gov. Gavin Newsom on July 13 imposed new lockdowns on restaurants, wineries, bars and other businesses, just as the state’s two largest school districts announced they would be online-only in the fall.
So the dairies and other farms that rely on food-service customers to survive are taking another gut-punch, and they may not recover as quickly. Many restaurants that reopened and spent thousands to restock just before the latest lockdown may end up closing permanently.
“Small businesses are hanging by a thread and this action puts all the burden of this crisis back upon them,” said Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Calif., and four Northern California state legislators in a statement. “Businesses have NOT been the direct cause, they’ve done everything they’ve been asked to do successfully. These shutdown orders punish them, their customers and it completely misses the target, especially in our rural towns.”
With outbreaks having occurred at numerous ag facilities, farmers and processors are keenly aware of the dangers of COVID-19. But this is the first crisis in American history to which leaders have frequently responded by picking who among their citizens must bear the sacrifice for all.
While measures such as mask mandates apply to everyone, lockdowns choose winners and losers based on their walk of life, not their risk factors. And sometimes, numbers don’t seem to matter.