UF survey: Coronavirus has decimated some Florida farms
The coronavirus has turned much of Florida’s winter vegetable crop into waste.
When Gov. Ron DeSantis issued executive orders shutting down the state to stop the spread of the coronavirus, people stayed home and changed their buying habits. Large food buyers like schools, resorts and restaurants became missing links in the food supply chain, leaving farmers with no market to sell their goods.
A team of University of Florida agricultural and food economists has now surveyed 729 farmers on how the stay-at-home directives and social-distancing guidelines have affected the state's farmlands.
They found that 84% of the growers said they lost a substantial amount of business. Most of the respondents are considered small businesses, with annual revenue of less than $250,000.
“March to May is a big harvest season,” said John Lai, an assistant professor of agribusiness and part of Institute of Food and Agriculture Services (IFAS) research team, during a Tuesday virtual news conference.
The group’s five surveys conducted earlier this month measured economic activity around the production, processing and selling of agriculture and aquaculture compared to the same time last year.
Sales of field crops like green beans, corn and cabbage is decreased by 46% overall, and livestock down by 39% compared to last year. Some growers report losing as much as 90% of their business and nearly half said their cash flow has been disrupted for the “long term.”
"For a lot of these operations, if it were harvest time, that might be the only time of the year they get revenue,” said Christa Court, an IFAS economist who led the study.
“Places like South Florida, where they produce millions of pounds of vegetables a day, their demand had been essentially shut off. That’s a big hit at a peak time of the year,” she added.
The 729 growers from across the state were surveyed April 16-May 15 about the pandemic's effect on their business. Much of the state began observing social-distancing guidelines and stay-at-home directives at the end of March.
The preliminary results show an uneven impact across different sectors of the industry.
“There were wide ranges of sales revenue changes reported within each commodity group, with some reporting positive results and others reporting total losses,” Lai said.
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services calculates the losses statewide through mid-May at more than a half-billion dollars. It has launched a series of programs to use federal money to divert some of the surplus food to food banks.
And the department’s Keep Florida Growing initiative has a web site where it provides information about Small Business Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture loans for farmers and advertises the location of farms that sell directly to consumers.
The Florida Farm to You program lists the fresh produce available. It offers not only vegetables and fruits but also oysters, chicken, tilapia and meats.
“There’s no silver bullet to solving the decreased demand from food services businesses, but by connecting our agricultural producers with willing takers, we can help move Florida-grown products from fields to consumers,” Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said last week in a statement.
This story originally published to ocala.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the USA TODAY Network - Florida.