By Dalton Henry, USW Vice President of Policy
For the better part of a century the United States has been known as the breadbasket of the world. Today, that reputation continues ringing as true as ever at a time when it may be needed most.
Reliability and certainty go hand in hand. That is why the U.S. export grain industry and the government agencies that protect and promote U.S. agriculture snapped into action when the first COVID-19 “shelter-in-place” orders forced many workers to stay home. Individual businesses developed mitigation plans including more cleaning shifts and personal protective equipment for employees. Workarounds were found to limit staff member contact and to ensure trade could continue to flow, even when items as routine as loading paperwork were being curtailed.
It wasn’t just private businesses that took steps to keep wheat exports flowing smoothly. While other countries used bureaucratic delays on regular functions such as permits and inspections to slow down exports, the U.S. Federal Grain Inspection Service (FGIS) issued a public letter stating they would “take all necessary steps” to ensure export inspection services would continue unabated. The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) issued a similar letter, promising to continue critical inspections and issuance of phytosanitary certificates. Both agencies clearly understand that maintaining U.S. agricultural exports is vital, not just to the U.S. economy, but also to meeting our commitments to our partners around the world.
USDA wasn’t the only federal agency to recognize that U.S. farmers need to stay on the job. The Department of Homeland Security is responsible for providing federal guidance in national emergencies, especially concerning critical industries. In less than a month, they have expanded the guidance defining “essential” workers and should, therefore, stay on the job in the event of “stay-at-home” or “shelter-in-place” orders to include the entire grain supply chain. That guidance includes workers in transportation, inspections, production, input suppliers and even business providing repair services. Keeping those businesses running, keeps U.S. farms running, and helps give our overseas customers peace of mind.
As we saw at a container facility in the Port of Houston when a worker tested positive for COVID-19, there will no doubt still be small disruptions as we work through this uncertain time. But with government and industry commitment to maintaining supply chains, wheat will continue flow to customers at home and abroad from the U.S. breadbasket.
If you have questions, please contact your local U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) representative here.