5 questions for Katherine Drake Stowe

 In Blog, You oughta know

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Katherine is the director of research for the North Carolina Soybean Producers Association where she leads the research efforts of one of the largest commodity groups in the state. Katherine grew up on a small family farm in eastern N.C. where a love and appreciation for agriculture were instilled in her from an early age. She has a passion for serving the farmers of N.C. and contributing to the success of the agriculture industry across the state.

Photo by Ken Martin

How are your members dealing with the current environment under COVID-19?

Most importantly, our farmers are still farming. They are tending to animals, preparing fields and planting crops. But agriculture is not immune to the challenges presented by COVID-19. Consumption patterns have been severely disrupted, as has the availability of agricultural labor. And commodity prices are down 15-20% because of supply chain disruptions around the globe. Things are really tough on the farm right now, but farmers are not new to “challenging times” and are adapting their businesses to the current logistical challenges. Farmers love what they do, and they will continue to wake up each day committed to growing the food we all depend on — that’s the one thing that will never change.

What should North Carolina know about how this is affecting agribusiness?

I’m sure you’ve probably seen news stories about farmers dumping milk, and you’ve likely had to find alternatives for some of your “go to” food products, or maybe you’ve even waited in line hours to buy chicken out of the back of a truck. There is no doubt that the shuttering of the food service industry has taken a toll on agriculture, but you should know the nation’s food supply is strong, and there is NO shortage of meat, vegetables or milk on the farm. The problem is the processing and distribution systems are struggling to get food on grocery shelves. Pre-COVID-19, Americans spent over half of their food expenditures outside the home (restaurants, schools, universities). A very large share of the food-distribution chain was set up to produce industrial-size products for the food-service industry and, on top of that, people just eat differently when they go out to eat. When was the last time you made onion rings at home, for example? It is going to take some time for the supply chain to adjust to these new demands on the system.

What was your biggest challenge this week?

Wrangling my 11-month-old away from electrical outlets, the dog’s bowl and the trash can, all while trying to “have it together” on a Zoom call. Kidding. (Kind of!)

But really, one of the biggest challenges for me personally is figuring out new ways to meet the needs of our growers. So much of what we do is through face-to-face events whether that’s grower meetings, farm visits or field days. These things are tough (if not impossible) in the age of social distancing, so we’re getting creative about how to interact with and get information to our stakeholders.

What is inspiring you these days?

I’m inspired by the sacrifices so many are making to care for or provide essentials for the rest of us. Most of us automatically think about our health care heroes, but I’m also inspired by the “everyday heroes” who are keeping our country running. Like those in the food-supply chain (field workers, people on the line at the meat-packing plants, truck drivers, cashiers) that put themselves at risk daily to keep healthy, affordable food on the shelf. One of these “heroes” happens to be my brother. He farms in eastern N.C. His wife works in a hospital, so the risk of her being exposed to the virus is high. They have been living in separate houses for over four weeks so he doesn’t accidently pick up and transmit the virus to any of his H2A workers. That’s just one example of how much our farmers give all year long to bring food to our tables. Thinking about the sacrifices so many others are making is really humbling.

Eastern or western barbecue?

No contest. Eastern. Preferably the whole hog right off the pig cooker, but I’ll settle for chopped if I have to.

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