While many would like to forget the year that just happened, it’s still important to look back and learn from the shitstorm that was 2020. Here are five top stories in the food and farming world from 2020.
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5. Gardening Makes a Comeback
2020 wasn’t all doom and gloom. We saw gardening surge in popularity, as people worried about food security and looked for new hobbies to pass the time at home. In April, we reported that vegetable seeds were flying off shelves, as North American seed sellers struggled to keep up with demand. Victory Gardens became a thing again, and more people picked up growing giant vegetables as a pandemic pastime.
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4. An Election Like No Other
The election of Joe Biden will likely bring a number of policy changes when it comes to agriculture and food. During the campaign, Biden promised to increase SNAP benefits by 15 percent. As for farming policy, Biden committed to reversing an increase in waivers granted by the Trump administration to oil refineries that let them avoid using a certain amount of ethanol. He also promised to expand programs such as the Conservation Stewardship Program that pay farmers to use sustainable methods.
In Congress, November brought the downfall of a number of representatives in agricultural districts. Long-time Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson lost his reelection bid to Republican Michelle Fischbach in Minnesota’s seventh congressional district. Peterson, who was first elected in 1990, was the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee and is set to be succeeded by Georgia Rep. David Scott.
In other farming districts, Democratic Rep. Xochitl Torres Small lost in a rematch with Republican Yvette Herrell in New Mexico’s second district, and Democrat TJ Cox lost his seat to David Valadao in California’s 21st district.
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3. A Devastating Year for Farmers
The pandemic has been a huge struggle for many farmers due to the closure of restaurants and other supply chain disruptions. The Trump administration’s direct aid payments helped alleviate a bit of the pain for some, but reports found these subsidies favored larger farms in the Midwest and the South. Many smaller diversified farms and farmers of color felt they did not receive their fair share.
And despite these payments, farm bankruptcies were up again. As of August, chapter 12 family farm bankruptcies increased 8 percent from the previous year. Total farm income was technically up to almost $120 billion this year, but 40 percent of that was from government subsidies. Farm cash receipts from crop and livestock sales were actually down $3 billion from the year before, according to the American Farm Bureau.
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2. Meat Plants, Farmworkers and Supply Chains
The pandemic highlighted and exacerbated striking inequalities across society, particularly in the agricultural sector, where meat plant workers and farmworkers were designated as essential workers. Both struggled through high rates of infection, largely due to poor working conditions and tight living quarters. More than 40,000 meat plant workers have tested positive for COVID-19 in the United States and more than 200 have died. Purdue University estimates that a staggering 145,000 farmworkers have tested positive for the disease, but this number is likely lower than reality as it does not include temporary labor.
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1. A National Reckoning
The killing of George Floyd in late May set off a summer of unrest that made many question how they could do more to battle systemic racism. American agriculture has an ugly history of racism that has seen Black farmers lose 90 of their land since the early twentieth century. The conversations that came out of this summer have helped pave the way for the introduction of a bill in the United States Senate, called the Justice for Black Farmers Act, that looks to reclaim Black farmers’ place in American agriculture.