Food & Beverage

Wasted milk, euthanized livestock: Photos show how coronavirus has devastated US agriculture

Key Points
  • As the coronavirus pandemic disrupts supply chains across the country, farmers are being forced to destroy their crops, dump milk and throw out perishable items that can't be stored.
  • Dairy farmers grappling with low prices and a sudden drop in demand from the lockdown are dumping out as many as 3.7 million gallons of milk every day, according to estimates from Dairy Farmers of America, the country's largest dairy cooperative.
  • Chicken processors dealing with staffing problems related to the virus have been forced to euthanize chickens because of the reduced capacity in plants.
A farmer checks on young female pigs at a hog farm in Smithville, Ohio, U.S., on Thursday, April 30, 2020.
Dane Rhys | Bloomberg | Getty Images

As the coronavirus pandemic disrupts supply chains across the country, farmers are being forced to destroy their crops, dump milk and throw out perishable items that can't be stored.

With restaurants and schools shuttered during national lockdown, prices and demand for essential agricultural products has fallen. Farmers who have already endured a slew of financial hardships over the past few years — from the U.S.-China trade war that sent scores of farms out of business to floods that wiped out entire harvests — are now left with an abundance of food that they can't sell.

President Donald Trump recently announced a $19 billion relief program, called the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, that will provide $16 billion in payments to farmers and ranchers and $3 billion in purchases of fresh produce, dairy products and meat to be distributed at food banks. The program follows a different aid package that the Department of Agriculture implemented for farmers hit by trade war tariffs.

The president also signed an executive order this week requiring American meatpacking plants to stay open during the pandemic. The order was aimed at preventing a breakdown in the nation's food supply chain, which is under severe stress at the moment. 

Surplus potatoes

Farmers in Washington state are facing a surplus of one billion pounds of potatoes due to restaurant and school closures, according to the Washington Potato Commission.

Potatoes sit in a storage facility at Friehe Farms in Moses Lake, Washington on Thursday, April 30, 2020.
David Ryder | Bloomberg | Getty Images
A farmer holds a seed piece from a clearwater russet potato in a recently planted potato field at Friehe Farms in Moses Lake, Washington, on Thursday, April 30, 2020.
David Ryder | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Russet Burbank potatoes sit in a storage facility at Friehe Farms in Moses Lake, Washington, on Thursday, April 30, 2020.
David Ryder | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Fresh produce rotting as demand dries up

Fresh produce is going to waste during the virus outbreak as supply chains crumble and farmers have trouble selling food. At least $5 billion of fresh fruits and vegetables have already been wasted, according to estimates from the Produce Marketing Association, as many farmers plow ripe crops back into the soil.

Farmers harvest romaine lettuce in Greenfield, California.
Brent Stirton | Getty Images

There has been a drastic reduction in activity in the food service industry as restrictions are implemented to slow the spread of coronavirus. Many fields like this are being plowed under because of the expense of harvesting and the lack of profit.

A tractor plows under what would have been spring mix, a popular and widely distributed salad mix, on April 28, 2020 in Greenfield, California.
Brent Stirton | Getty Images

Farm laborers practice social distancing, and use masks, gloves, hair nets and aprons. 

Farm laborers from Fresh Harvest arrive early in the morning to begin harvesting on April 28, 2020 in Greenfield, California. They practice social distancing, and use masks, gloves, hair nets and aprons. Fresh Harvest is the one of the largest employers of people using the H-2A temporary agricultural worker visa for labor, harvesting and staffing in the United States.
Brent Stirton | Getty Images

Farm laborers with Fresh Harvest wash their hands before work.

A field washing station in Greenfield, California.
Brent Stirton | Getty Images

The pickle-variety cucumbers were being given to a local cattle rancher as feed. Long & Scott Farms cucumbers are normally destined for restaurants but a large percentage of them are now being discarded or are rotting in fields.

A container of cucumbers is dumped onto a trailer at the Long & Scott Farms on April 30, 2020 in Mount Dora, Florida.
Joe Raedle | Getty Images
Hank Scott, president of Long & Scott Farms, stands in a field of rotting cucumbers that he was unable to harvest due to lack of demand on April 30, 2020 in Mount Dora, Florida.
Joe Raedle | Getty Images

Many South Florida farmers are saying that the coronavirus pandemic has caused them to have to throw crops away due to less demand for produce in stores and restaurants. 

An aerial drone view from a drone shows farm workers as they fill up bins in the back of a truck with zucchini on the Sam Accursio & Son's Farm on April 1, 2020 in Florida City, Florida.
Joe Raedle | Getty Images
A pile of zucchini and squash is seen after it was discarded by a farmer on April 1, 2020 in Florida City, Florida.
Joe Raedle | Getty Images
Essential farm workers harvest zucchini on the Sam Accursio & Son's Farm on April 1, 2020 in Florida City, Florida.
Joe Raedle | Getty Images
An aerial view from a drone shows John Duffy planting corn on a farm he farms with his father on April 23, 2020 near Dwight, Illinois. Mild, dry weather has farmers in the state scrambling to get their fields planted.
Scott Olson | Getty Images

Pork in Smithville, Ohio

Virus outbreaks in pork-processing plants have caused several plants to shut down, leading to overcrowding of pigs in barns and discussions over euthanizing thousands of hogs in order to deal with capacity. John Tyson, chairman of Arkansas-based Tyson Foods, has warned that plant closures due to the pandemic will result in the loss of millions of animals like chickens, pigs and cattle.

A Tyson Fresh Meats plant employee leaves the plant on Thursday, April 23, 2020, in Logansport, Indiana.
Darron Cummings | AP

The Agriculture Department will establish a "coordination center" to help livestock and poultry producers hurt by coronavirus-induced meatpacking plant closures.

Young female pigs stand in a pen at a hog farm in Smithville, Ohio on Thursday, April 30, 2020.
Dane Rhys | Bloomberg | Getty Images
A farmer checks on young female pigs at a hog farm in Smithville, Ohio on Thursday, April 30, 2020.
Dane Rhys | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Dairy farms face weak demand

Dairy farmers grappling with low prices and a sudden drop in demand from the pandemic lockdown are dumping out as many as 3.7 million gallons of milk every day, according to estimates from Dairy Farmers of America, the country's largest dairy cooperative.

Dairy cows stand in a pen at a cattle farm in West Canaan, Ohio on Thursday, April 30, 2020.
Dane Rhys | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The herd manager at Stone-Front Farm looks over dairy cows in a barn in Lancaster, Wisconsin.

Dairy cows in Lancaster, Wisconsin on Thursday, April 23, 2020.
Daniel Acker | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Alfred Brandt milks his Holstein cows on the dairy farm, which has been in his family since 1840 and has been affected by the industry's supply chain disruptions created by Covid-19, in Linn, Missouri.

A dairy farm operation in Linn, Missouri, April 28, 2020.
Whitney Curtis | Reuters

Lima Ranch owner Jack Hamm looks over his dairy cows as they feed in Lodi, California.

A dairy farm in Lodi, California on Thursday, April 9, 2020.
Jessica Christian | San Francisco Chronicle | Getty Images

Pictured below is a cheese creamery in Gallipolis, Ohio. The Trump administration would like to make purchases of milk and meat products as part of a $15.5 billion initial aid package to farmers rattled by the coronavirus, said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.

Empty chicken houses 

Chicken processors dealing with staffing problems related to the coronavirus have been forced to euthanize chickens because of the reduced capacity in processing plants.

In Albany, Minnesota, Kerry and Barb Mergen stand outside their now-empty chicken house with a straggler who managed to elude the crew that came in just before Easter to euthanize the other 61,000 laying hens in their flock. The Mergens were contract chicken farmers until demand plummeted and the owner of their chickens, Daybreak Foods, decided to cut their losses and euthanize the flock.

Poultry farmers Kerry and Barb Mergen outside their now empty chicken house in Albany, Minnesota.
Jeff Wheeler | Star Tribune | Getty Images
The lucky 15 hens who somehow managed to elude the crew that came in to euthanize the other 61,000 laying hens in Mergen's flock in Albany, Minnesota.
Jeff Wheeler | Star Tribune | Getty Images

Chickens arrive by truck at the Wayne Farms processing plant in Albertville, Alabama.

Chickens arrive by truck at the Wayne Farms Inc. processing plant in Albertville, Alabama on Tuesday, April 28, 2020.
Maranie Staab | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Empty poultry shelves at a Whole Foods Market in Vauxville, New Jersey.

Mushroom farm loses restaurant revenue

In Lenhartsville, Pennsylvania, mushroom farmer Matt Sicher is adapting to changes in his business as a result of coronavirus. He has lost lucrative revenue from restaurants in New York City that have closed. As a result, mushroom farmers are shifting from selling to restaurants, to retail, selling to individuals.

Matt Sicher, co-owner of Primordia Mushrooms, holds some Pioppino mushrooms at his farm in Lenhartsville, Pennsylvania.
Ben Hasty | Reading Eagle | Getty Images
Sicher displays yellow oyster mushrooms at Primorida Mushroom farm.
Ben Hasty | Reading Eagle | Getty Images

Beef supply hit by slaughterhouse closures

Many Americans are bracing for a meat shortage after the virus shut down some of the country's largest slaughterhouses. Trump on Tuesday signed an executive order to keep meat-processing plants operating during the pandemic even though many have become virus hotspots.

Rancher Martin Davis checks on his Red Angus cows and calves after feeding on April 21, 2020 in Paradise Valley near Livingston, Montana.
William Campbell | Getty Images
Beef ribeye steaks sit in a stack in the meat department of a supermarket in Princeton, Illinois on Thursday, April 16, 2020.
Daniel Acker | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Empty meat department cooler shelves await restocking of beef products during the Covid-19 pandemic at a Walmart on Wednesday, April 29, 2020 in Danville, Illinois.
David Allio | Icon Sportswire | Getty Images