Cancel OK

COVID-19 hits Florida growers hard

Florida growers are being forced to disc under some crops, such as these green beans from FFVA chairman Paul Allen, due to the lower demand with so many restaurants closed during the pandemic.

With foodservice demand drastically reduced and retail not able to make up the difference, many fruit and vegetable producers are struggling.

But some areas are being hit harder than others.

Florida, for instance, points to spring as the prime season for many crops, and they’re being met with low demand. Not only that, but many crops there are grown primarily for foodservice.

“Significant portions of Florida crops go to foodservice,” said Lisa Lochridge, director of public affairs for the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association BB #:153753. “For tomatoes, 80 percent go to foodservice, and it’s high for beans and squash.”

Florida tomato prices for 25-pound cartons of mature greens have fallen from about $20 to under $10 since the beginning of March.

She said Florida has had a good growing season and many bumper crops, so the timing of the economic shutdown due to COVID-19 is a killer.

“The losses have been staggering and devastating,” she said. “Growers have had to plow under and discard millions of pounds of produce.”

In mid- to late March, product that couldn’t find a home went to feeding programs, but even that market is full.

Lochridge said Florida growers and FFVA are working with retailers to buy and promote Florida-grown fruits and vegetables, and FFVA is even promoting on its website what Florida farms are selling directly to consumers.

FFVA has also worked with other associations on encouraging USDA to act quickly in developing a market stabilization plan, which would help Florida growers.

“The big picture is this has driven home the issue of the importance of American farmers and them being able to supply food for Americans,” Lochridge said.

Greg Johnson is Director of Media Development for Blue Book Services