As the effects of the COVID-19 lockdown continue to reverberate throughout the county, area farmers work to keep stores stocked and hunger satiated.
For more than three decades, Guadalupe County Farm Bureau President John Friesenhahn has worked the land to produce myriad crops. His farm located in the Seguin area yielded more than 2 million pounds of corn and a million pounds of grain last year. Although there have been changes to his personal life to stay safe when commuting in and around town, life on the farm is business as usual, he said.
“It really hasn’t affected me all that much because I pretty much work by myself. So on a day to day basis, I’m not in contact with a lot of people,” he said. “But what has changed is when I’ve had to go and get parts because the businesses will have barriers where you can’t get too close to the parts and people and things like that. Luckily, I had already ordered a lot of the supplies that I needed.”
While growing and cultivating products remains relatively unchanged, there are difficulties faced by farmers due to over saturation in the market and a limited number of processing plants, Friesenhahn said. This bottlenecking has led to a drop in the price that farmers receive for various goods.
“That’s been the biggest issue for us right now,” he said. “I sell grain, corn, milo, and I sold all my wheat, so I don’t have any wheat to sell right now, but the prices on wheat is depressed as well. I know several ranchers, and they’re baffled at the fact that cattle prices have dropped. There seems to be a shortage in stores, and there’s plenty of cattle, but there’s a limited number of packing plants.”
Another contributing factor to the lower prices farmers face is the decreased demand for farm-produced goods resulting from reduced traffic in restaurants, Friesenhahn said.
“Normally, we have an 80% chance of understanding where the prices are going to fall, but anything can happen,” Friesenhahn said. “There’s no certainty in any of this stuff, but the way things are going this year, it just adds a little bit more uncertainty because it’s a factor that came out of nowhere.”
An idea to reduce the amount of goods produced by larger farms was proposed throughout the country to combat over-saturation, Friesenhahn said. However, catering to an ever-evolving market does present hurdles.
“Things can be ramped back up again into normal production, but, [for instance] if you’re only used to making 100 pounds of cheese a day, you can’t all of the sudden overnight start making 500 pounds because it takes a while. For the normal production ag, it’s business as usual, but for the smaller produce growers, it’s a question of ‘how do you get to the consumers?’”
Outside influence is also concern amongst farmers, Friesenhahn said.
“If a country like Brazil – they grow a lot of beef – say ‘we can ship a million pounds of hamburger meat,’ and for them, it would be a profit, the farmers still have cows in the field, so to speak, it’s gonna throw things off,” Friesenhahn said. “It’s not that we want people to starve, we’re worried about other countries taking advantage of the situation and causing more of a disruption for farmers as well.”
Although the threat of overseas competition is present, Friesenhahn said he has no concerns about its impact locally.
“I don’t think that’s going to happen on a local level because things are gonna happen as they’ve normally happened,” he said. “I’m not worried about that domestically, and I don’t think the Farm Bureau is either.”
Guadalupe County Farm Bureau Vice President Ray Joy Pfannstiel operates a similar operation to Friesenhahn’s, producing grains, milo and corn, with the addition of about 120 cows. He shares Friesenhahn’s sentiment that life on the farm remains the same. However, Pfannstiel said larger-scale farms are seeing a direct negative impact from the pandemic.
“[They] are having difficulties getting it harvested because they don’t have the workers to harvest it and get it to market,” he said. “They don’t have the migrant workers who can’t come in, so in some cases, the farmers have had to destroy their own crop because they couldn’t get it harvested.”
Difficulties aside, food production is continuing on as it always has, Friesenhahn said.
“I’m already growing crops for this fall that will be used in 2021, so we’ve got a supply,” he said. “The cattle is there, and the chickens are there…you will have food on the table. We may not have it exactly like you are used to it, but we’re in great shape. We’re going about business as usual, and I feel fortunate that my life hasn’t changed much at all. We’re here doing our normal business, and things will be fine.”