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Running a farm in the coronavirus economy

Andie Corban and Kai Ryssdal Apr 7, 2020
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Sean Gallup/Getty Images
COVID-19

Running a farm in the coronavirus economy

Andie Corban and Kai Ryssdal Apr 7, 2020
Sean Gallup/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

While much of the economy is shut down because of the coronavirus, America’s farms continue needing their usual attention. Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal spoke to Patrick Smith, who runs the apple and hops farm Loftus Ranches in Yakima, Washington.

“We’re considered an essential business by the state of Washington,” Smith said. “So we’re doing everything we can to continue the critical activities that we need to do, with a lot of added precautions for the sake of our employees.” Smith has recommended that they wear masks and has implemented staggered start and end times for his workers.

“The hardest part right now is projecting what your demand looks like for the rest of this year,” Smith said. He saw a 52% spike in apple shipments the week of March 16. “That was the week when everybody started going out buying toilet paper and all the things that they needed.” Since then, Smith said apple sales have settled down.

In addition to apples, Loftus Ranches farms hops, and the Smith family runs a brewery. “Packaged beer sales in grocery stores and outlets like that are up, but probably not enough to cover up for the lost volumes at bars, restaurants, stadiums and airports.” At Smith’s own brewery, Bale Breaker Brewing Co., packaged sales have increased, but the bar has been closed for about a month.

Click the audio player above to hear the interview.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What’s the outlook for vaccine supply?

Chief executives of America’s COVID-19 vaccine makers promised in congressional testimony to deliver the doses promised to the U.S. government by summer. The projections of confidence come after months of supply chain challenges and companies falling short of year-end projections for 2020. What changed? In part, drugmakers that normally compete are now actually helping one another. This has helped solve several supply chain issues, but not all of them.

How has the pandemic changed scientific research?

Over the past year, while some scientists turned their attention to COVID-19 and creating vaccines to fight it, most others had to pause their research — and re-imagine how to do it. Social distancing, limited lab capacity — “It’s less fun, I have to say. Like, for me the big part of the science is discussing the science with other people, getting excited about projects,” said Isabella Rauch, an immunologist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. Funding is also a big question for many.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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