Farmer holding produce — Courtesy: Shutterstock — ABO PHOTOGRAPHY
Produce growers are facing several challenges as they make their way into the new year. These hurdles include inflation, a labor shortage, supply chain and market disruptions due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“There’s just so much unsureness with the future of the market,” said Jeffrey DeMott, President of Redland Nursery.
Growers in south Miami-Dade County are facing an influx of import and covid-related market disruptions.
“The best thing growers have going is the grocery stores, that is the most stable pricing,” said Sam Accursio of Sam S. Accursio and Sons Farms. “The issues have made the market go down our break-even cost, and we are trying to get rid of our excess. Demand American grown; demand grown from Florida.”
One example is cruise ships, which have not returned to full steam and were a big buyer of locally grown produce.
“We have adjusted our plantings down, we have reduced our acres by 300 acres this year to try and combat the COVID mess, we don’t know where we are going to be next month,” Accursio said.
A shortage of truck drivers is also an issue.
“Labor shortage has been another issue entirely, not affected just by the disease itself but just because it has been tough to get a more stable workforce available,” said DeMott. “At Redland Nursery we do a lot of exporting and that has been one of the issues is the equipment is there, the ports that we ship out of here in South Florida they are operating, and we don’t have a problem getting bookings, but then the ship day will come, we are ready to load a container, and no container arrives, mainly because they haven’t been able to get enough of their labor in order to deliver us that container on time which then we can turn it around to our consumers, so that has been an issue.”
On top of that, inflation is creeping into the nursery industry’s supply chain inputs.
“The pots, the soil, the fertilizer, the chemicals, all of our inputs we have seen that kind of trickled raise throughout the year,” said DeMott.
All of these variables are making any planning for production and distribution over the next year quite challenging.
“Without really knowing where we are going or whether or not we are going to be able to deliver those goods and produce, we are dealing with a product that you know has a life stage and if we don’t get that product turned around in that time period, unfortunately, it gets dumped, or there’s just very little recourse to send it somewhere else in the market,” said DeMott.
However, these local growers, who have weathered hurricanes, hail, frost, and unreasonably warm seasons, express the determination to overcome this problem.
“I worked my whole life doing this, 40 years full time, this was my 40th year putting seed and I am not ready to throw the white towel up,” said Accursio. “We are fighting, and we will continue to fight and not throw the white towel up to stay in business because we are charged to feed the world.”
“It is a lot of unsureness and hopefully we are over the worst of this and we are headed toward a nice recovery and we can gain grounds that way,” added Demott.
During the coronavirus pandemic, Accursio developed a direct-to-consumer model to make up for some of the traditional markets which vanished at the start of it. This included opening up a local store where his and the produce of other growers is sold to this day. They are also taking e-commerce orders. For more info visit https://www.accursiofarms.com/.
For more stories like this, Florida Insider is your source for all things Florida. From business to nature, to sports and more, we have it all. Easy to read content at the palm of your hands and covering stories that matter.
Chris began his writing as a hobby while attending Florida Southern College in Lakeland, Florida. Today he and his wife live in the Orlando area with their three children and dog.