Thanks to an online panel discussion, featuring four key voices to Wisconsin agriculture, we can better understand the “how” and “why” of our farmers’ plights amid COVID-19.

“At Christmastime things were getting a little more optimistic out here on the farm. Then COVID hit and it pretty much destroyed our markets,” says Cal Dalton, a corn and cattle farmer from Marquette County.

From reporting in Wisconsin Examiner, Dalton and three other panelists, all key voices to Wisconsin agriculture and economics, took part in a Zoom call put together by WisPolitics. Integral to their discussion was the topic of how long “it might take to recover now, and what the new face of farming might look like in a world where the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to linger into next year, if not longer.”

A common thread that each of the panelists wove was how things were seemingly picking up in early 2020, after the US-China trade agreement was finalized, but spiraled out of control as soon as the pandemic struck. One of the panelists was Dan Smith, president and CEO of the Cooperative Network, which represents 250 cooperative businesses in Wisconsin and Minnesota. He stated, “We thought we had gotten through the last five years of the downturn. It’s amazing how quickly we lost that optimism when COVID came along.”

The piece later notes that Smith “said the combination of trade disputes and the disruption in supply chains from COVID-19 point to the need to strengthen regional and local markets, not just relying on exporting commodities.”

Another panelist in the discussion, University of Wisconsin-Madison economist Ian Coxhead, noted that the bulk of the state’s agricultural plights could be attributed to “a series of recent U.S. policy decisions.” According to the piece, Coxhead believes that, “The federal government’s management of the COVID-19 pandemic has further endangered the country’s — and Wisconsin’s — position in the world economy.”

While the panelists held onto hope for the future, they are certainly fearful of what may be in store through the rest of 2020 and beyond. You can read the full piece in Wisconsin Examiner here.