This week, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) released the Florida Seasonal Crop COVID-19 Impact Assessment, a new report providing data on crop losses facing Florida farmers.
Based on figures reported by growers, total crop losses across the state through mid-April 2020 may exceed $522.5 million. Florida is the nation’s second-largest producer of seasonal specialty crops such as blueberries, strawberries, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and more.
“As COVID-19 continues to upend our economy, access to a safe, healthy, secure domestic food supply is critical. That depends on our farmers, who are facing significant crop losses and unprecedented market challenges,” Fried said on Monday. “With high-volume buyers like theme parks and cruise lines closed, as well as continued unfair foreign trade practices, Florida’s growers are facing over half a billion dollars in losses. These crop loss figures reported by growers are the tip of the iceberg – without quick access to meaningful federal assistance, many of Florida’s multi-generation agriculture businesses could be sunk.”
The FDACS released the following:
Causes: The Florida foodservice industry’s demand for fresh produce has plummeted as large-scale buyers including restaurants, school districts, food processing facilities, and others have closed due to COVID-19. Farmers who depend significantly on these high-volume purchases are experiencing losses. In addition to these COVID-19 market issues, high volumes of unfairly-priced Mexican imported produce continue to over-saturate the U.S. market and driving prices below the economical point to harvest, pack, cool and ship the domestic product. As Florida and Mexico share nearly-identical growing seasons, COVID-19 has intensified the problem for Florida farmers.
Solutions: Fried and FDACS have been working tirelessly to help mitigate these losses. Fried has worked closely with agricultural producers, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and other partners to support Florida growers through these challenging circumstances. Fried has been in communication with Congress, USDA Secretary Perdue, and other federal agencies to advocate for fast economic relief, and with major retailers and state agencies to seek additional purchases of Florida-grown products, including produce and dairy. She has also advocated for increased focus on Florida’s food supply, and communicated and directly with farmers and ranchers to provide resources, support, and connections directly to buyers, consumers, and food banks. On Friday, the USDA announced $19 billion in aid for agriculture, but concerns remain about the aid’s timeliness and effectiveness due to payment limitations. Fried will continue working with USDA, Florida’s congressional delegation, and industry partners to push for the solutions and support Florida’s farmers need and deserve.
Florida Seasonal Crop COVID-19 Impact Assessment: The Florida Seasonal Crop COVID-19 Impact Assessment was assembled utilizing phone interviews with growers on April 15, 2020. It should be noted that markets, as well as selling and purchase strategies, change rapidly for most crop sectors with the current conditions of the market. Fluctuations for these projected figures should be expected. Below is information on six of the eleven seasonal crops surveyed to collect value loss data for the Florida Seasonal Crop COVID-19 Impact Assessment.
Selected Crop Loss Data:
Lettuce: Circumstances have driven sales down by at least 60 percent for the season, with estimates of 75 percent or more of the crop being plowed under. A conservative value loss estimate for the Florida lettuce industry is $5-7 million. Some growers in this industry still have one month of harvest left to complete, and report that a more precise estimate will be available once the season ends in mid-May.
Green Beans: Estimated crop losses of green beans in Florida ranges from 50-75 percent and prices have fallen from $16-18 per box to $6-8 per box in one week. This crop loss cumulatively could range from 75-100 percent in Central and North Florida, where harvest season has just begun. Industry estimates may approach $40-50 million in overall losses. This crop is approaching heavy scheduled volumes and peak production in coming weeks.
Cabbage: Overall demand for Florida cabbage has decreased by almost 100 percent following the closure of processed product markets for food service. Estimates of crop losses approach $24 million for the Florida cabbage industry.
Zucchini/Squash: Growers of zucchini and squash are harvesting the crop only where pre-existing contracts are in place or for the purpose of preserving plants. With 25 percent of the product still remaining in fields, prices have dropped from $28 per box to as low as $3 per box. Estimated losses on Florida zucchini and squash are $17 million for each crop. These crops are approaching heavy scheduled volumes and peak production in coming weeks.
Peppers: It is estimated that up to at least 25 percent of the overall Florida pepper crop has yet to be picked, as growers are harvesting only to cover pre-existing contracts, and then are shutting down production quickly to minimize further losses. Each crop is typically only seeing one to two picks, resulting in approximately 20 percent of the total pepper business being plowed under this season. Estimated losses are at least $10 million on Florida peppers.
Cucumbers: Many South Florida companies grow cucumbers for the spring market, and 100 percent of that spring market crop may now be plowed under. Industry estimates approach up to $38 million in overall losses. This crop is approaching heavy scheduled volumes and peak production in coming weeks.