( Courtesy University of Florida )

A University of Florida survey on COVID-19’s effects on the state’s agriculture industry shows that most operations continue to operate, and expect to weather the long-term effects of the pandemic.

But like most growers, shippers and allied industry companies, the effects on sales and revenues are significant, even though the effects on commodity groups and the specific commodities within those groups exhibit a wide range of changes from the pandemic. 

The university’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, through the Food and Resource Economics Department, conducted the survey. Preliminary results were released during a web seminar.

“On the agriculture side, it’s too early to tell what the long-term impacts of this will be because it is sort of an unprecedented and still-changing situation,” Christa Court, assistant professor of regional economics and director of program that looks at ag losses from disasters, said during the seminar.

“But keep in mind that there are going to be long-term effects on the demand side and that sort of depends more on the consumer than the producer,” Court said.

The survey looked at agriculture operations, including fresh produce, and fishing/seafood related industries.

In the agriculture operations segment, 729 responses were given (of which 424 competed the full survey), according to the researchers; of those, 65% were from the production segment, 8% were post-harvest/processing, 9% were from transportation and 18% from other segments.

Ninety percent said they have remained open during the pandemic; of the businesses that have shut down, 7% said they will not re-open. Main reasons for agriculture segment shutdowns were because of municipal/local mandates (29%) and being unable to find customers or sell products (27%), according to the survey.

The survey is the first round in a planned series of questions to Florida agriculture businesses, Court said.

Responding to a question about whether any of the downturn in revenues for Florida growers could be attributed to Mexican fruit and vegetable imports, Court said the questions were specifically directed to pandemic-related effect. Looking at the relative effects of the pandemic versus imports would have to be addressed in future surveys, Court said.

John Lai, an assistant professor of agribusiness, and Court emphasized the large range of effects in produce and other sectors with fresh produce seeing different effects than fisheries, and different fruits and vegetables experiencing different levels of revenue losses.

“I would say that we learned that the agriculture industry has been hit hard … across all of the commodity groups, average reported sales revenue is down,” Court said. “But I think the other big thing to take away from this is that there’s a large amount of variation, so the different commodity groups were impacted very differently, as well as commodities within commodity groups showed a lot of different changes.

“Just keep in mind this is an ongoing situation, so we don’t know yet is this is the end result for a lot of these businesses or if they will continue to be impacted as we do additional rounds of the surveys,” she said.

According to survey participants, the following commodity groups are seeing average revenue shortfalls:

  • Field crops: -23%
  • Horticultural crops: -46%
  • Vegetables, melons and potatoes, -25%
  • Fruits and nuts: -31%

For more information on how the pandemic is affecting different segments of the produce industry, see The Packer's COVID-19 webpage.

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