MALHEUR COUNTY, OR (KPTV) – A farmer with land on the Oregon-Idaho border is sharing his story of tremendous loss because of the pandemic.
Shay Myers, a third-generation onion farmer with farmland in Malheur County is digging trenches and returning onions to the earth because of the impact the pandemic has had on the food service industry.
It means he can't sell to dine-in restaurants, schools and hospitals.
He put the maximum amount he can in cold storage and bagged other onions for the stores instead but says it's a major impact.
"Lot of people say this to me - there's still 320 million people in the United States, so there should still be, we should still be eating the same amount of onions. But when you go to eat at the house, how often do you make onion rings at the house, or a blooming onion at the house, or if your kids don't want an onion, you don't put the onion on there,” he said. “But at Burger King the onion comes whether you ask for it or not, so the consumption numbers are significantly impacted based on what's going on.”
Myers has applied for a small business loan, but says he's taking on big losses right now making it tougher for him.
And he says it's not sustainable financially and worries about the disruption to the food chain six months down the road if the economy opens back up, and there's less food available.
It's a concern echoed by other farmers who are returning their crops to the soil and dumping nearly 4 million gallons of unsold milk each day in places like Wisconsin.
"I think the issues that we're seeing in public health care supply chain, where we are putting our doctors and nurses and health care professional at risk, uh, in this crisis will do the same thing with the food supply chain and God forbid that we disrupt that, then we'll have a serious issue of feeding a large portion of our society," said Nick Vyas, USC Marshall School of Business.
"We have to operate processing plants even when we have COVID. If we don't, we simply don't, won't have food," said Ken Sullivan, Smithfields Foods.
Myers says with the financial losses he's already facing plus transportation and packaging costs, it makes it impossible to send his crop to food banks.
He says some organizations are looking into covering freight costs making it more of a possibility.
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