Grower News

COVID-19 restrictions that canceled events and shuttered restaurants have collapsed distribution chains for fresh fruit, vegetables and flowers grown throughout the Tri-Counties. Consumer demand plunged, growers said, as buyers prioritized shelf-stable goods like grains, pasta and frozen and canned foods, foregoing berries, leafy greens and cut flowers grown on the Central Coast. “(Agriculture is) an essential industry, but almost all of the markets went away overnight,” said John Krist, CEO of the Ventura County Farm Bureau. “The price out there is too low to justify picking.” As berry season gets underway, the steep decline in demand from food service and restaurant customers has also put pressure on lemon and avocado growers that rely on those outlets. Export markets saw the first declines at the start of the year, followed by event cancellations, restaurant closures and finally grocery stores, where customer habits have changed. And while some restaurants and catering companies have reopened for takeout or delivery, volumes are still low. “It’s all such a delicate balance between supply and demand and timing,” Krist said. “We produce such prodigious volumes … there’s an awful lot of food looking for a home.” For Oxnard vegetable grower Deardorff Family Farms, fields of celery, cilantro and leafy greens are planned in such a way that there’s always product available. With orders from food service customers down 90 percent or more, that’s meant skipping over entire fields when they reach maturity, said co-owner Scott Deardorff. “When the food service industry collapses, that takes a lot of production that would normally go there and tries to put it into the retail market,” Deardorff said. “The market’s so low it doesn’t pay to get it out of the field. Once that field is disced under, it’s a cost you can never recover.” Those losses aren’t covered under standard crop insurance, he added. “We looked through our policies, and there’s no coverage there.” Another top crop for the region, cut flowers, is also contending with a steep drop in demand, as retail stores and wholesale florists have been forced to shut down due to statewide restrictions. Studio […]