COVID-19 overshadows all other issues

It will be three days from time of writing until this is published and in the present circumstances three days is an eternity. Apologies are in order because this article won’t have the latest developments.

However, it’s safe to say that COVID-19 is changing the world in ways that seemed unimaginable just a short time ago. The human impact and the impact on agriculture in the months ahead are impossible to predict, but they could be huge.

I’m writing this from a small fishing village in southern Mexico where we like to vacation every couple years. Not much talk of coronavirus among the locals (reported cases are quite low in Mexico) but it’s the top concern for all the tourists as they watch the news back in Canada and the United States.

Many are going home early. We tried to get an earlier flight, but it wasn’t feasible. Maybe I’m a worrywart, but I don’t think it’s beyond the realm of possibility that all air travel will be seriously curtailed at some point.

And might the two-week self-isolation request for international travellers turn into something more prescriptive such as forced quarantine?

I’d really like to be home and I know that if I was sitting at the farm writing this I’d feel a bit smug knowing that out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere, Saskatchewan feels pretty distant from the fears of COVID-19.

While rural areas may be relatively safe from the threat of infection, our livelihood is not safe at all. If Canada is heading for serious quarantine measures like those implemented in Italy, it could be challenging to put a crop in the ground this spring.

I have some of my seed and most of my fertilizer on the farm, but a lot of crop protection products are purchased as needed. As for pulse crop inoculants, I doubt you could get them even if you had a place to store them.

I don’t have nearly enough diesel storage to get through seeding without refills and there are always equipment parts and a hundred odds and ends that are required. Food and basic supplies will need to reach consumers, but how much priority will be placed on the inputs that producers need on a timely basis in the spring?

It’s hard to imagine supply chains being seriously disrupted, but who could have imagined professional basketball and hockey being paused and all sorts of meetings and conferences being cancelled, let alone schools and universities being closed?

Assuming we can grow a crop, what will all the economic repercussions mean?

Experts say the safety measures are all about flattening the curve, slowing the advance of the virus so the health system isn’t overwhelmed. That makes a lot of sense, but flattening the curve means the restrictions are going to be in place for a considerable length of time.

Based on what has happened in other countries, restrictions are likely to become increasingly onerous. Chuck Penner of Leftfield Commodity Research had a great Tweet, “Captain Obvious has an even more annoying cousin, Colonel Hindsight. And he’s going to be very vocal once this is all over.”

People who complained that coronavirus was all media hype are now complaining that governments didn’t do enough soon enough to protect us. And even though COVID-19 is a respiratory illness, people can’t resist hoarding toilet paper, which shows how smart the general population can be in times of crisis.

Kevin Hursh is an agricultural journalist, consultant and farmer. He can be reached by e-mail at kevin@hursh.ca.

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