The devastating reverberations of the pandemic are shaking every part of our economy, both locally and nationally. And we cannot yet see when this economic earthquake’s aftershocks will subside.
The jobless rolls continue to grow, with more than 36 million Americans out of work within a month.
The head of the Federal Reserve says the $3 trillion in aid already approved by Congress will not be enough to stave off a depression in the national economy, even with the trillions more in support that is already being provided by the Fed itself.
“Additional fiscal support could be costly but worth it if it helps avoid long-term economic damage and leaves us with a stronger recovery,” Fed Chair Jerome H. Powell said, according to a report in the Washington Post.
That’s the national crisis.
On the local level, where retail stores are starting to reopen on a limited basis to try to attract wary customers, we need look no further than the agriculture sector to see the prospect of deepening trouble.
Keymar dairy farmer Greg Clabaugh told News-Post reporters recently that he is worried about the long-term sustainability of his family-owned farm. Specifically, he wonders whether the farmers’ co-operative to which he belongs is going to keep picking up the milk.
“If they’re going to have a market for it … what price are we going to get,” he asked rhetorically.
Clabaugh said he needs to receive about $17 per hundred pounds of raw milk to keep going, but his most recent check was for $13 per hundred pounds.
When you are pouring your milk into your morning cereal or adding cream to your coffee, you probably don’t think much about the dairy farmers of Frederick County, nor about how their businesses are run.
But Clabaugh and his fellow farmers know that a significant portion of their product goes to schools and restaurants. The schools have been closed since March, and restaurants are only offering take-out, if they are operating at all. With less demand, milk prices are falling.
That has been a terrible blow to dairy farmers. Clabaugh told our reporters that he has looked at getting rid of cows that produce less milk and reducing the amount of feed the herd is given.
The whole country has been shocked by video of farmers in other states pouring their milk into the sewers because they have no place to sell it. It is jarring especially because desperate, unemployed people are waiting for hours in food lines.
Kelly Nichols, agricultural agent associate at the University of Maryland Extension’s Frederick office, explained that a production line might be equipped to package milk in eight-ounce containers for schools. But now those production lines need to be changed to package milk in containers people will purchase at the store. Such changes require both time and money.
“It’s not that the milk isn’t being produced,” she said. “It’s just having to get it to the grocery store.”
Maryland schools will not reopen for this school year, and no one knows yet what will happen in the fall. Restaurants are not close to reopening either, and when they do, it will be on a limited basis, with the number of customers severely restricted. So, it is highly likely that the market for milk and other dairy products is going to shrink, and prices will stay low.
This is just one more example of how the pandemic is altering our lives, in ways both great and small. It also reminds us how interconnected our world is, how an emergency that closes schools can have an enormous impact on the men and women who wake up every day at 4:30 a.m. to milk their cows.
The aftershocks just go on and on, and no one knows how this will all end, or when.