Florida Farmer Looking Forward to Next Season With Optimism

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By Clint Thompson

A devastating hit to the South Florida’s produce industry by COVID-19 has not deterred Toby Basore from looking forward to next season with optimism.

“I don’t care where you’re at, if you went into your grocery stores during this, there wasn’t any toilet paper on the shelves. There wasn’t any Lysol or hand wipes. The cheaper meats were gone, poultry; you couldn’t find chicken or ground beef for a while. But if you went into the produce section, it was stocked,” said Toby Basore, co-owner of TKM Bengard Farms in Belle Glade, Florida, during a Farm Credit webinar on Thursday. “The farmers, we’ve done our part. I think that the worst thing that could happen is we all cut back on our acreage. There could be shortages. I’m an optimist. I’m hoping for things to get back to normal. Right now, our plan is to continue and look forward.

“Of course we’re going to meet with our customers and get with them right after Father’s Day. They tell us their needs. If they have cutbacks, we’ll cut back. We pre-sell everything so if our customers want more or less, that’ll be our business model.”

Pandemic Hits During Peak Harvest of Florida Crops

Basore is an optimist despite enduring the coronavirus pandemic at the peak of Florida’s harvest season. He said the farm produces of 8,000 acres, which includes lettuce, broccoli and cauliflower. It is the largest lettuce producer east of the Mississippi. But like fellow Florida farmers, Basore suffered during the pandemic.

“March April and May are huge months for Florida so it hit at a bad time. “A lot of the growers here were impacted by COVID-19, including ourselves,” Basore said. “We probably passed 400 acres of lettuce due to the outbreak of the pandemic.”

He estimates 60% of his crop goes to processors, which in turn is shipped to schools and restaurants; two outlets that were nonexistent during the pandemic. The rest goes to retail, which Basore said was a “lifesaver.”

Basore is hopeful for brighter days ahead.

“Hopefully, the president is right and we’re going to have a better third and fourth quarter and a great year next year. It’s an unknown. We think that our business model should be the same next year,” Basore said.