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Virus Concerns Change Farmer Habits

By DTN/Progressive Farmer Staff

OMAHA (DTN) -- Farmers are showing general concern about how the coronavirus pandemic will influence the coming crop year, their businesses in general and even their family's health, according to a current online poll conducted by DTN and data analytics company Farm Market iD. More than 69% of farmers polled don't have a prepared backup plan should they become sick with the virus themselves.

"We know that COVID-19 is taking a toll on populations around the world," said John Teeple, DTN senior vice president-agriculture. "Our farmers are entering a stressful planting season and now have to contend with the challenges associated with this global pandemic. They are on the front lines of ensuring that our world has food to eat."

Farmers were sent email invitations to take part in the poll, "Coronavirus Impact on the Farmer and the Business of Farming," starting March 27. Percentages quoted are as of late evening March 29, when more than 420 farmers had responded to a 23-question poll. The general levels have varied only a percentage point or two through the March 27-29 period. An open poll of this type has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.

BUSINESS, HEALTH CONCERNS

When asked about the business effects of the virus, some 88% were at least somewhat worried the issue would hurt their business. Some 56% were either very worried or extremely worried about the issue hurting business. In a recent DTN/Progressive Farmer online poll held in mid-March, more than 70% of respondents said their main concern was the overall global economy; substantially fewer were worried about their specific business success.

When asked about health concerns, 84% had at least some concern that the virus would affect the health of family or friends. More than 46% were very worried to extremely worried about health issues.

A concerning point, given the relatively high number of respondents who were worried about health issues due to COVID-19, is that the vast majority of farmers -- 69% -- said they did not have a backup plan to continue current farming operations if they themselves got sick. It's not surprising, given that many farms are still single-proprietor or have few family members or employees as part of the operation. But it also speaks to the downsides of that limited business leadership and how it can be crippled when the unexpected happens.

CHANGING FARMER BEHAVIOR

The poll included a number of questions that were exploring how farmers were changing behavior due to the coronavirus issue. At least 50% of farmers had taken steps ranging from meeting less and being more careful with money expenditures. More than 85% were taking steps such as practicing social distancing and putting more effort into washing hands or using hand sanitizers regularly.

Farmers also were looking to various input suppliers and other vendors to work with them during this pandemic period.

More than half of farmers were looking for improved flexibility in pick-up and delivery of supplies and thought that suppliers should offer flexible financing terms. Some 68% were looking for price reductions from suppliers. The most popular expectation, with 71% of respondents agreeing to the need, was for more communications and openness from farm suppliers.

"The survey results indicate that farmers are delaying large purchases and instituting conservative farming decisions," said Steve Rao, CEO of Farm Market iD. "Agribusinesses should take notice to the challenges this presents their businesses.

STRONG SUPPORT FOR PRESIDENT

Farmers were also asked about their support for the Trump administration and how officials were handling the coronavirus pandemic. It's been well documented that the president has strong support in farm country. More than 70% of respondents said they were satisfied with the response to the virus by the administration.

"This may be an important and early indicator for the 2020 presidential election, as we found that 90% of respondents plan to vote in the fall," said Steve Matthesen, CEO of DTN. "If they were pressed to vote today, more than 80% would vote for the current administration."

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Editor's note: To encourage response to this timely coronavirus poll, DTN and Farm Market iD are each making a $1,000 donation to Feeding America (www.feedingamerica.org ) to support that organization's 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries.

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(AG/CZ )