Coronavirus Pandemic Impacts Alabama Vegetable, Specialty Crop Producers

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By Clint Thompson

Max Runge, Extension specialist in agricultural economics at Auburn University, believes there was impact from the coronavirus pandemic on vegetable and specialty crop growers in Alabama.

Max Runge

Some have still thrived with their businesses and U-pick operations despite a pandemic dating back to mid-March. Others struggled to find their footing when restaurants were forced to close and stay shut down for multiple months. Finding alternative ways to sell products was essential.

“In general, I think it’s sort of a mixed bag. There are some of the specialty crop growers that are doing okay; ones that are letting people come to their blueberries, blackberries and strawberries; they’re getting picked out, almost daily. They’re almost having to control how much is picked every day,” Runge said. “The ones that may have been supplying restaurants were obviously hurt. If there’s a second wave and we have more closures and not able to do the serving, sit-down, that may be a market that they lose but selling direct, selling off of a website is a definite possibility. I think it’s beneficial.”

Potential Second Wave of Pandemic

A potential “second wave” of COVID-19 is also a possibility and could strike when temperatures start to cool, likely in October or November. Runge expects most vegetable and specialty crop growers will not alter their plans for the fall growing season.

“Looking forward, I think like most of agriculture, our specialty crop producers are going to go ahead and plant sort of what they typically would and maybe even expand, depending on their location. If they can get it to a farmer’s market or get to the consumers in a safe way, I think they’re going to go ahead and do it,” Runge said.

Runge said Alabama Extension has issued a survey to agricultural producers and industry leaders to gauge the COVID-19 impact on agriculture in that state. It should close on June 30.

“Hopefully, sometime in July, we’ll have at least an idea of what the impact COVID has been on agriculture,” Runge said.