Covid-19 has been a horrible virus with negative effects across the board in all industries.
It has been especially hard on farmers in general and cotton farmers specifically who rely on market reliability to maintain profit expectations each year. The effects are likely to be felt for years to come, even as the world begins to recover from the pandemic.
We are going to recover, with the vaccine becoming more and more available the end of the problem is near, but it has affected farmworkers and farm owners differently than how it has hurt the rest of society.
Covid-19 and Agriculture
Agriculture has arguably not been affected as much as other industries because of the nature of how the work is conducted. Much of the work is done outside, and modern tractors and accessories allow an operator to run the machine without direct contact with other people.
The work can’t be conducted from home, but much of the operation takes place outdoors with everyone remaining over six feet away from each other. With that said, when people get sick, they either can’t conduct the physical aspect of farm labor or aren’t going to be as efficient, and that is just in general terms when talking about the common cold or normal flu.
With Covid-19, there is also the aspect of quarantine to prevent the further spread of the disease. Farming, especially during planting and harvesting seasons, can be severely disrupted when people are unable to come to work.
Today’s farms are based on efficiency in which the amount of people hired is the number of people needed, there isn’t room for extras and backup workers on a daily basis.
Like any other industry, the operation can’t solely rely on one person, but several people can’t come in or one person with the training and experience to run a specific piece of equipment misses work, efficiency is going to suffer.
Other than the actual fieldwork involved, crops have to be harvested and processed, then shipped to their process destination before going to the consumer. Because of the pandemic, customers aren’t going shopping for items they don’t need.
Cotton is especially susceptible to such a concept as it is used in items that aren’t always considered to be necessities. Cooking oil uses cotton and is needed, but not as much as before the pandemic when restaurants were closed. Tires are another common product using cotton, but people aren’t driving as much and therefore don’t need replacements as often.
Of course, clothing is the most common and well-known use for cotton. People still need clothing, but perhaps don’t have to buy new clothes as much when staying at home.
Cotton and the Clothing Industry
The fact is new clothes simply aren’t the most important thing for people during a pandemic. People who work in an office are required to maintain nice clothes, but working from home doesn’t have such a requirement.
Likewise, people who enjoy social activities don’t have the same need for new clothes as they did before the quarantine. There is also the aspect of shopping which some people enjoy as an afternoon or vacation activity, yet people have been refraining from such activity since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.
People have been buying pajamas and sweatpants, additionally comfortable t-shirts, but those aren’t the bulk of cotton used in the fashion industry. They aren’t as expensive as nicer clothing, and they don’t always use the same quality of cotton as used in more expensive clothing.
Cotton Farming and the Pandemic
The bottom line is the demand for cotton products has dropped after the onset of the coronavirus outbreak.
Farming is notorious for relying on consumer demand. The demand affects both the ability to sell a crop and to keep prices high enough to remain profitable. A few cents change in commodity prices can make all the difference between whether or not a farm is successful each year.
The concept is especially true with smaller family-owned farms which have little in the way of a backup plan when things go wrong.
Industrial and commercial farms may be able to temporarily absorb the cost from lower sales volume and prices, but not in a sustainable way over multiple years. The real problem comes when smaller farms that contribute to the agriculture industry are unable to pay bills due to unexpected problems. Such farms are integral to the country as they produce much of the raw materials required locally and globally.
The world has come to depend on cotton products ever since the 16th century when American cotton was introduced to the world.
The lack of support for the cotton industry during the pandemic is going to have far-reaching effects long after the virus is contained. Yes, other industries and the economy, in general, have suffered over the last year, but those will recover eventually.
When farms close, it tends to be more permanent without another company ready to pick back up the lost production provided. It will be interesting to see how the cotton industry is affected over the next few years and decades after Covid is resolved. That is just the nature of farm work.
Farms tend to rely heavily on community support in order to survive while other industries are more likely to have investor support and access to loans as needed when there is a downturn in their business plan.
Cotton farming has always been known to be physically demanding for labor and especially hard on equipment. Modern machinery is designed to handle such abuse, but it does break down at times. That is simply part of the expense of running such equipment.
The solution is to replace parts when needed with appropriate certified aftermarket parts.
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