By Ryan LeGrand
Dear global customers:
We appreciate that many of you have questions related to the continued operations of U.S. grain production and export facilities during the ongoing COVID-19 response here in the United States. I hope this update provides you answers and also offers some reassurance that during this trying time, we are doing everything possible to ensure we continue to fulfill the grain needs your country and your people have, like we have done for many decades and through many prior trying times.
We want to assure you, at this time, it appears that U.S. grain export infrastructure – private and public – continues to operate largely as normal.
We have been in contact with a wide range of U.S. agriculture organizations at the state and national levels; coalitions focused on transportation; and private companies operating on the Mississippi, Illinois and Ohio river system and at export facilities in the New Orleans region as well as the Pacific Northwest region. In all cases, we have heard back that operations are ongoing and facilities are taking precautions, such as increased sanitary protocols and social distancing, to ensure the spread of COVID-19 does not require a change in that status.
In some cases, we are seeing concerns that are not directly related to COVID-19 but related indirectly to the subsequent lack of containers. We continue to monitor these challenges but believe they are related to market issues, not the virus or virus response.
Grain and ethanol prices have dropped in recent weeks in response to overall market pressures. We believe this represents an opportunity for many of you to secure the supply you would like to have for your ongoing operations.
Ag Deemed Essential
The response to COVID-19 in the United States is managed by both the federal government and state and local governments. At the federal, or national, level, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) have declared U.S. agriculture and food infrastructure and the employees who work within it as “essential,” meaning they will continue to operate as normally as possible throughout this crisis. This order is important because it allows (in some cases requires) employees to go to work even when “shelter in place” or other stay-home orders are issued and also could prioritize the industry for relief offered by government agencies. Many states have also declared their agriculture and food infrastructure as essential.
A letter to industry stakeholders from USDA about continuity of operations is here.
We would also like you to know agriculture and export stakeholders at the local, state and national levels in the United States are working around the clock to ensure that our government and industry leaders are fully apprised of the importance of grain flows to our nation and yours. Our entire industry – domestically and those of us who primarily work beyond our own borders – are advocating for continued, stable operations in a very uncertain time.
Notes On Export Facilities Operations
It’s important to note that most export facilities operate with limited employees, sometimes as few as two or three. The grain exporting industry in the United States has worked in recent years to automate many processes, which creates efficiencies and reduces cost. In this situation, those upgrades could also prove beneficial.
As many of you know from having participated in USGC trade teams over the years, much of the U.S. agriculture and export infrastructure – from farms to ports – is naturally relatively isolated, in line with current social distancing practices.
The U.S. industry also continues to advocate for contingency planning at every step along the grain export system, and USGC is cooperating actively with domestic partners to offer input into that planning.
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