The pandemic continues to cause issues across multiple industries, but agriculture has faced several unique challenges — from crops rotting on the vine during shutdowns to having to find new ways to sell their produce.
Dr. Christa Court, director of the Economic Impact Analysis Program at the University of Florida, is an expert in regional economics and works in the school’s Food and Resource Economics Department. Court has been studying the impacts of the pandemic on the state’s growers and farmers.
“One of the things that we did early on — we have some a rapid assessment process that we go through for hurricanes and we retooled that survey that we use to be specific to the pandemic early on in the shutdown stages,” Court said. “So we released that in March to mid-May of 2020. It happened to be peak harvest season for a lot of producers — especially in that Southwest Florida area that were producing fruits and vegetables — and we estimated at the time — again, just in that one period of March to mid-May of 2020 — $895 million of losses for producers.”
Court explained that the full impact since the start of the pandemic is still being calculated.
“We don’t have a specific value beyond doing that first estimate,” she said. “You have several other projects underway though that looked at what happened throughout 2021.”
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Court pointed out that different parts of the country had different rules for reopening, impacting how farmers sold their produce. She also said that consumers changed their buying and eating habits.
“We consumed food differently during the shutdown and that might have affected what we go back to permanently,” Court said. “Do we go back to behaving exactly like we did before the pandemic or are we still eating at home more often than we did before? And that’s going to affect the overall impact of the pandemic.”
Court called the pandemic a “demand-side disaster” for the state’s growers, meaning there was plenty of supply but the demand dried or changed. She pointed out that changes in the way restaurants function are also causing issues for the agricultural industry.
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“I think you have to consider, again, some of the infrastructure changes that took place when we had the same experience,” Court said. “We go to a restaurant and it seems like it’s packed, but maybe they’re not seating all of the tables that they would have said before, right? If they’re spacing things out a little bit more, where they’re making adjustments for having fewer servers on staff, or to try to accommodate a carryout order line. It’s a lot more detailed, to look into how much food the kitchen is putting out the window versus what we’re seeing being served at the tables there. But it does seem to be — a not going to see a permanent shift — but we haven’t seen it go all the way back to eating as much away from home as we were pre-pandemic.”
On the latest episode of Florida Foodie, Court details more of her research into the pandemic’s impacts on Florida’s agriculture. She also shares thoughts on how the state might prepare for another disaster like the pandemic and other issues, like the war in Ukraine, that are hurting growers in Florida.
Please follow our Florida Foodie hosts on social media. You can find Candace Campos on Twitter and Facebook. Lisa Bell is also on Facebook and Twitter and you can check out her children’s book, “Norman the Watchful Gnome.”
Florida Foodie is a bi-weekly podcast from WKMG and Graham Media that takes a closer look at what we eat, how we eat it and the impact that has on us here in Florida and for everyone, everywhere. Find new episodes on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you download your favorite podcasts.