By Clint Thompson
Farmers can learn a lot from the first coronavirus pandemic in preparations for a potential “second wave” that might occur this fall.
Christa Court, assistant scientist in the University of Florida/IFAS Food and Resource Economics Department, said producers who were willing to adjust on the fly this spring fared more successfully than those who did not.
“I think a lot of the things that we’re learning from that the types of industries or the types of operations that are struggling are the ones that operate within a single geography or they have a single supplier for some of their key products or inputs. They didn’t see the risks coming or maybe had inventory systems that were not able to store product for the time being when operations were shut down,” Court said. “I think those are going to be the things we learn from more than looking at any specific impact that we saw from March to mid-May because we might be in a completely different situation if we come to a second wave.”
There were growers who found success in adjusting to how they sold their crops this spring. Tifton, Georgia farmer Bill Brim thought Inside the Box when he decided to sell boxed produce straight to consumers for several weeks in April, May and June. Customers lined up the roads waiting to buy local and support a farmer who felt the pinch of a lack of a foodservice market.
Florida vegetable farmer Sam Accursio also thought creatively in a way to provide produce to customers at a cheaper-than-normal rate in late March and early April. He sold 40,000 pounds of produce the first weekend and 60,000 pounds the next.
“One of the other studies that I mentioned before was saying that operations that were too rigid and not willing to adjust were some of the ones that were struggling the most. I think just being open to new opportunities is one way that they can move product if they end up in a similar situation,” Court said.
Court and UF/IFAS issued a survey this spring to analyze COVID-19 and its impact on farming operations throughout Florida. While it is normally used during times of natural disasters like hurricanes, the same premise can be applied to growers during a global pandemic. The idea is to assess what was going on with growers specifically.
“The main aspect we were really interested in was what was going on with sales revenues. Across all of the commodity groups that we were able to analyze, there’s a wide range of reports from losing almost everything to some operations saying they were doing 80 or 90 percent more business than they were last year. If we take an average across all of them for each commodity group, the sales revenues are down about 20% and 60%,” said Court, who added that more than 700 respondents replied to the survey.
“A lot of what we normally see with something like a hurricane is that the supply is hit. Oranges fall off a tree. Field crops are flooded. But here it was that the demand was shut off. Even if a grower had a product that was ready to go to market, there was nobody there to buy it.”