Suffering millions in lost farm sales because of COVID-19 restrictions on restaurants since mid-March, some Florida growers are now selling some of their crops directly to consumers.
The Packer’s Tom Karst visited April 9 with Lisa Lochridge, director of public affairs with the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association.
Lochridge said FFVA has a web page that lists Florida growers offering produce to consumers. On April 10, about 40 farms were listed on the web page. The listings inform consumers of the name and location of farms, contact information, commodities offered and how to order and pick up the produce.
Lochridge said the sales to consumers are tiny compared to displaced sales to foodservice distributors in recent weeks.
“The losses due to the shutdown of the foodservice sector and now the slowdown in retail.. have just been swift staggering and devastating,” she said. “There’s nowhere for the product to go and so some growers are having to make very difficult decisions to plow their crops under, and others are doing direct to consumer sales, just anything they can do to find an outlet for their crops.”
Lochridge said there have been success stories for growers selling to consumers.
“There is one grower in South Florida, who produces yellow and yellow squash and zucchini, who opened his farm up on a Saturday morning and within three hours, he had sold his cooler out,” she said. “That’s a drop in the bucket, but it’s a way to put nutritious fresh produce in the hands of consumers.”
Lochridge said FFVA is working to get federal relief to growers.
“We as an association have joined other associations across the country in asking USDA to use its Section 32 purchasing power to buy this produce and distribute it through its feeding programs,” she said. Direct relief from the USDA also is needed.
“We know that they’ve heard us and we’re just hoping that the money starts coming sooner rather than later.”
In a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, Congressional lawmakers from Florida asked USDA to provide “immediate relief” to Florida growers.
“Florida’s agricultural industry has endured multiple crises in recent years, including devastating impacts from Hurricanes Irma and Michael, novel plant diseases such as citrus greening (Huanglongbing), and the ongoing dumping of perishable produce from Mexico,” the letter said..
“Florida agriculture always rises to the challenge to weather these difficulties, and it is rising to meet this one. Unfortunately, the current situation may cause irreparable harm without your immediate assistance.”
The letter asked that USDA consider “all options” to ease the burden of the sudden economic downturn, including providing direct financial assistance to producers under the authority of the Coronavirus, Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
Other relief options, according to the letter, are Section 32 commodity purchases and offering increased programmatic flexibility in the administration of the Child Nutrition Program and the Emergency Food Assistance Program.
Lawmakers also said that protection against U.S. imports of Mexican produce are still needed.
“We note that the planned U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) field hearings with regard to seasonal and perishable produce have been postponed due to the pandemic, and in the meantime urge you to work with USTR to evaluate and respond to the economic challenges caused by the dumping of Mexican produce.”