by Chris Jackson, UK TAG

I am writing this article as the world grips with the worst disease outbreak ever known. The world that we have grown up in has changed and will never be the same. For farming and, particularly, the livestock sector we all know that this is an industry that runs 365 days of the year and relies on a sustainable climate, regardless of viral diseases that affect the human population. The farming calendar is relentless worldwide, supplying the food that we all need. Everything else, except for water, we can actually live without.

For the livestock industry that relies on an efficient milling industry, feed supply is not as bad as might be there being a shortfall in feed take up due to the devastation caused to the global pig industry by African Swine Fever (ASF) killing some 50 percent of pigs in China alone, which equates to 24 percent of the world population

The livestock industry has learned that tracing infected animal movements, isolation and quarantine are all necessary tools to maintain control whilst vaccines are unavailable.

Around the world we are seeing differing scenarios for the livestock industry playing out with feed suppliers doing their best to continue to support the intensive livestock industries with products that fulfil the nutrient requirements in the diets that they supply. For instance, I hear from friends in Thailand that some essential vitamins and amino acids have been subject to very high price rises, which I assume is due to a shortfall in supply from one of their major suppliers in China.

In India, as I suspect in other countries, feed and agricultural inputs have been marked as essential services and remain running outside of country lockdowns. However, there have been some reports of hampering in the smooth movement of essential food related items especially between the states. This has been an issue with animal feeds particularly. Dairy cattle owners are now giving low-quality feed to their cows and buffaloes (fodder is there, in some cases state governments ensuring sufficient fodder reaches dairy farmers, but lack of good quality feed is the issue, which in its turn affects milk output).

There have been reports of steep crashes in poultry prices (linked to a rumor circulating online in February suspecting that consuming chicken can result in coronavirus disease). The Indian Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying issued a press release in early March to reassure the public that consumption of fish, meat or chicken does not lead to contracting the virus. The market demand for these food products, however, is still low.

In Australia interstate movement is restricted making it more difficult for the millers to supply product here though it is more a question of managing supplies than lack of supplies but their farmers are looking forward to a brighter future as they are able to produce food for export. The USA seems to be particularly affected due to the virus outbreak, both crop and livestock prices having been driven down.

Corn futures have declined by almost 10 percent, soybean futures more than four percent and wheat futures by nearly two percent in the past few weeks.

Here in the UK there is no shortage of animal feed. There may have been a few local difficulties of supply to some small-scale producers experiencing problems, but where these occurred, they have been very quickly remedied. Millers are acting exceedingly responsibly to ensure that they deliver feed where needed, whilst ensuring that farm staff stay safe with adequate social distancing, and sanitary safeguards in place. These measures have been reinforced, taking into account government advice regarding COVID-19.

Feed supplies here in the UK are fine as we go to press, however the price of Vitamin E supplies has increased dramatically. Some amino acids are also in short supply and there is concern that millers may have some difficulties in acquiring the necessary fats needed for rations as oil seed rape (canola) harvests were light last year and the very wet winter in the UK will have a depressing effect on yields in this coming harvest. Soya has seen a substantial price rise in the UK which is at odds with US farmers seeing a downturn in price.

Markets for meat and dairy products worldwide have been hit hard by the closure of restaurants, schools and works canteens with people in their homes using more pastas, dried and manufactured food.

We in the farming, livestock and the milling industries need to stay positive in these difficult times. People need food and the farmers will supply it. Perhaps we will see more locally produced food consumed, a major plus for the environment and the long term health of the world. This, combined with innovative solutions to produce protein from waste with effective insect farming will have long term global benefits.

Less air miles for food will be a major step forward. With China and other South East Asian countries now returning to normal there is good reason to become optimistic that the western world will follow their example and work with more social distancing measures within companies, which must be helpful in preventing the spread of other diseases and problems in the long run.

Once the lockdown ends, there will be a surge in demand in the livestock sector. Good news for the farming industry and our colleagues that feed our animals from the milling industry.

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