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Legislative study looks to avoid future ag food supply disruptions

Legislative study looks to avoid future ag food supply disruptions

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State Sen. Steve Halloran, of Hastings, introduced LR 435 to enact a study on COVID-19's impact on the food supply chain. The study aims to increase the resiliency in processing, distribution and retail sectors of the food system, to avoid future disruptions from pandemic or other public health emergencies.

According to Nebraska Farm Bureau’s COVID-19 & Nebraska Agriculture Potential Estimated Losses analysis, Nebraska agriculture was estimated to possibly face $3.7 billion in losses if economic conditions did not improve from Jun. 10.

Estimated losses included $1.17B billion from soybeans and corn, $971 million from beef cattle, $166.5 million from pork, $8.7 million from wheat, $1.303 billion from ethanol and $66.1 millon from dairy.

In response to these losses and food supply disruptions, Halloran said the study, a part of LR 435, will take a look at what can be done down the road to possibly prevent these kind of problems.

“It's kind of a no-brainer, it will be passed,” Halloran said.

LR 435 was referred to the Agriculture Committee on Jul. 30. Halloran said the proposed legislation has a large amount of support going forward.

“I think it is clearly evident that the ag industry, like every industry in the state has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic emergency, and I believe it's wise to do a study so we can document the impacts and examine the needs to increase resiliency in processing, distribution and retail sectors of the food system,” Halloran said, “So the study is to see what we can look down the road to possibly preventing those kinds of problems in the future if we had something similar to this pandemic we are in.”

Halloran said LR 435 focuses on proceeding with an in-depth study by gathering information and established data from a variety of sources, including Farm Bureau and Nebraska Cattlemen, then presenting the results with the legislature, resulting in making changes for future situations.

“We will be drawing on a lot of information that is already out there and gathered ... it's consolidating that data together and then developing a report,” Halloran said, “Hopefully we will find, once we have conducted a study, measured the damage and looked more specifically at the damage that has been done to agriculture, we can potentially take legislative action to help anticipate and avoid it in the future.”

The importance behind improving the livestock processing and packing portions of the food system, during a situation such as the COVID-19 pandemic was emphasized by Halloran, due to the timely manner of livestock needing to be moved along to the processing stages of production.

“Particularly meat packers there has been quite a bit of disruption in the processing side of meat packing. That is troublesome because when animals are raised for market, they can’t be held for very long, they need to be sent to the processors,” Halloran said.

Due to labor disruptions in packing facilities from individuals contracting COVID-19, the volume of processing is what ultimately has caused farmers or ranchers to face difficulty with holding livestock, Halloran said.

“We have seen some disruptions with labor, having contracted COVID-19 and diminishing the volume of processing, which frankly forces the farmer or rancher to hold on to their livestock longer they should have to,” Halloran said.

Halloran said going forward LR 435 will allow the agriculture food supply chain to be more resilient and run in a smoother manner under public health emergencies.

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