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The Rebound: Farmers facing uphill battle in months ahead

Farming season is here, but farmers are making changes due to COVID-19
Posted at 3:34 PM, May 26, 2020

(WXMI) — When it comes to making ends meet, farmers already have their hands full and now they are facing new challenges as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

In the past month alone, Michigan farmers have seen a late freeze, a ton of rain, and falling demand as a result of the pandemic.

The agriculture industry has been battered, but there are some resources available and some things people can do to help farmers stay afloat.

“Our revenues haven't been keeping up with our costs, and this is actually making it worse,” Fred Leitz said.

Fred Leitz is a fourth-generation farmer in Southwest Michigan.

From apples to tomatoes, his family’s 600 acre farm is making changes because of the global pandemic.

“Were just like every other employer. I mean we have all these COVID-19 regulations and guidelines from the CDC from the state of Michigan from OSHA from MIOSHA. It's like drinking out of a firehose right now,” Leitz said.

Leitz Farms brings in nearly 200 seasonal migrant workers.

His staff is now training them on proper social distancing, equipping them with masks and gloves and putting an extra emphasis on cleaning and sanitizing.

“All that is time. And you have to pay for time. And this year it's costing me about 18 bucks an hour,” Leitz said.

“This COVID-19 with the PPES with all the other things we have to do is definitely, definitely going to cut into our already thin margins,” Leitz explained.

That extra cost is even tougher on the budget when you factor in the broken supply chain and falling revenue Leitz and farmers across the state are anticipating.

“We haven't shipped anything yet this year 2020, we will start about the 25th of June. That’s a big concern of ours. I mean, half of our stuff goes to food service which is restaurants casinos, schools, things like that. We're really looking at how that's going to impact us now,” Leitz added.

With the stay at home order shutting down restaurants across the state, many farmers are anticipating a big financial hit.

“The demand for restaurants and food and services went down tremendously,” Curtis Walcott said.

Walcott is the owner of Walcott Farms in Ottawa County, one of the largest turkey farms in the state.

The majority of his product goes to restaurants and the food service industry and can’t be repackaged to go elsewhere.

Since most of our products, go to restaurants and food service, it's packaged in a certain way, which makes it difficult to convert to retail. So, the product that we have that's prepared and ready to go out in our processing plant does not necessarily convert all the way to retail,” Walcott added.

In the meantime, Walcott is staying optimistic and putting his focus on making sure his workers and birds are healthy.

“You're keeping pace with what's currently happening, and you try and anticipate the best you can.” Walcott said.

“But we're working hard to take advantage of what's out there to help offset some of the disadvantages that we have in front of us,” he added.

One resource that’s now available for Michigan farmers is the USDA Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, which will provide financial assistance to qualified farms that have suffered losses because of the pandemic.

However one thing farmers say regular people can do to help, is to go to local farm stands, farmers market, or grocery stores and buy products from Michigan farms.

That can go a long way in helping local farmers rebound.