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Old 04-10-2020, 01:56 PM   #1
Coronavirus forces Florida farmers to scrap food they can’t sell

Such a shame. My wife picked up a bunch of fruit for my new diet just yesterday and paid a pretty good buck for it

A tractor with a 35-foot blade mowed down one million pounds of green beans ready to be picked at R.C. Hatton’s Pahokee fields.

Those crops should have been going to South Florida’s restaurants, cruise ships, school cafeterias, airlines and even theme parks.

Instead, they are going into the ground. “And I’ve got another one million I can’t harvest that’s going down in the next three days,” R.C. Hatton’s president Paul Allen said.

The total shutdown of the hospitality industry, to stem the spread of the coronavirus, means farmers who grew crops intended for everyone from small, independent restaurants to busy hotels are stuck with millions of pounds of produce that will soon be left to die on the vine.

And even food banks, soup kitchens and rescue missions, which have seen a surge of unemployed workers making hours-long lines for boxes of donated fresh fruits and vegetables, are saturated with farm donations.

“It’s catastrophic,” said Tony DiMare, vice president of the third-generation-owned DiMare tomato company. “It’s a dire situation, and there’s no relief in sight.”

Like many farms, DiMare’s business is split between growing produce for
retail outlets like grocery stores and direct to the food-service industry.

When restaurants were ordered shut overnight, about half of his 1,300 acres of tomatoes, mostly in Homestead, had no buyers.

“You’re dealing with a perishable product,” DiMare said. “The clock is ticking.”

Unlike flour or sugar, fruits and vegetables must be harvested, boxed, shipped and sold quickly — or not at all.

With no one to buy the product, R.C. Hatton farms has made the difficult decision to plow under many of its fields.

Harvesting that fruit can cost more than twice as much as simply razing it. Workers who usually make between $15-$17 an hour, paid by the amount they pick, instead earn minimum wage doing field work.

So one million pounds of green beans and four million pounds of cabbage at R.C. Hatton will be churned into mulch in the next few days.

DiMare estimates that by the end of the growing season, about 10 million pounds of his tomatoes will go unpicked.

“It’s devastating for agriculture in Florida,” Allen said. “There’s zero demand, and it’s being left in the fields.”

One option is for the federal government to invoke the power to purchase farm product for use in assistance programs. The stimulus bill Congress passed Friday had $9.5 billion in dedicated disaster relief for farmers.

Some farms, like Pero Family Farms, have been able to reroute its specialty produce, like sweet mini peppers and organic salads, to the grocery stores who are demanding more than usual because many people are now cooking at home.

And some restaurants have even turned to selling this produce online, with local pick up and delivery. One, Threefold Cafe in Coral Gables, turned their seven-restaurant infrastructure into packaging grocery goods from farms and purveyors and selling it directly to the public.

“We have to find ways to get creative,” said Pero’s chief sales officer, Nick Bergstrom.

Farms are having trouble even giving their fruits and vegetables away.

As millions of pounds of produce threatened to go bad, growers flooded non-profit organizations. DiMare said when Walt Disney World shut its doors, the park filled the food pantries in the Orlando area.

In South Florida, even the biggest non-profits are having trouble moving the mountains of quickly ripening produce into the hands of hungry people who need it.

“The volume is at a level we’ve never seen before,” said Stephen Shelley, president and CEO of Farm Share, which partners with more than 2,000 food pantries, churches, schools and other nonprofits throughout Florida to distribute food every day.

Farm Share is running at maximum capacity, Shelley said, despite having 25 refrigerated trucks, six warehouses of between 10,000-35,000 square feet and 40-50 drop sites from Jacksonville to Florida City. They usually help more than seven million pounds of food reach the hungry and now are faced with moving a lot more.

“It is overwhelming the system,” he said.

But no one is turning away donations. DiMare donated 400,000 pounds of tomatoes last week alone and plans to donate another million pounds this week. R.C. Hatton similarly has opened up its farm to you-pick and is sending countless boxes of green beans and cabbage to food rescue charities, as much as they can take.

“We absolutely can handle it,” said Sari Vatske, executive vice president of Feeding South Florida. “We can’t get it in and out fast enough.”

The organization, which is part of the Feeding America network, is using its own fleet of trucks and more than 220 local partners to give away more than 2.5 million meals a week from Palm Beach to Monroe counties.

Meanwhile, more people than ever are relying on the donated fresh produce as thousands were laid off from the food industry in the last weeks.

Last Wednesday, a line of cars eight miles long queued up at a Farm Share site in Liberty City, where volunteers are putting groceries directly into trunks to avoid unnecessary contact. Distributions are planned throughout the week and a calendar is available online.

Feeding South Florida is seeing six times as many people coming for donations at its many locations, while its volunteer staff is just a quarter of its usual size. Many are following stay-at-home orders and are afraid of contracting the coronavirus, despite a no-contact system.

“The math is not on our side,” Vatske said.

Meanwhile, the sun sets on crops that grow another day closer to going from food to fodder.

“We have got to get this virus contained,” DiMare said, “or we are not going to get back to close to being normal.”
Old 04-10-2020, 03:03 PM   #2
Milk and eggs have the same problem. Cows don't stop producing and chickens don't stop laying just because all of the restaurants are closed. Unfortunately the logistics of delivery to the commercial/wholesale/education markets is very different from delivery to the retail market, and the processing & packaging companies are not set up to move from one to the other in an instant.

Take cheese as an example. In the grocery store it's packaged in 8 oz or 1 pound blocks or sandwich slices, or small (under 2 pound) packages of grated cheese. Restaurants get it in 10-20 pound packages of shedded or sandwich slices, or huge wheels, and most consumers don't want that much even if you can freeze it easily.

Milk is often sold in 5-gal bibs or in kegs and again, most households can't use that much before it spoils. At schools it's sold by the pint for children's lunches, but again most consumers don't want that, they want gallons and half gallons.

Ice cream for restaurants comes in large pails which physically won't fit in a typical household freezer.

Restaurants get eggs in 30-egg flats so again, not household-friendly.

Theoretically the milk cows and egg-laying chickens could be sent to slaughter but their value as meat animals is low, and once everything does recover it takes years to produce and raise a heifer to where she's productive. So, farmers aren't going to be quick about culling herds because they can't replace animals quickly.

Milk dumping isn't exactly a new concept, and many processing plants pay the farmers for dumped milk to ensure they have a regular supply when they need it. It's still painful to watch when there's none on the grocery store shelves though.
Old 04-10-2020, 03:57 PM   #3
Randall Turner
That is always painful to hear about. Would be nice if someone could have the logistics in place to simply can the products in large swaths or process for animal feed.
Old 04-24-2020, 11:45 PM   #4
Sure does point out how fragile the economy, and civilization in general, can be.

This isn't going to be the last time that something like this happens. We have already had a fair share of narrow misses as it is.

Civilizations have collapsed in the past. You have to wonder if something like this was behind some of those sort of things back then.
Old 04-25-2020, 09:12 AM   #5
If you have a chest freezer now is the time to put a half beef or whole hog into it. With the bigger processors shutting down a lot of farmers are selling the live animal directly to one or two customers and delivering it to a local butcher for custom processing. I just got offered a whole hog (live) at butchering weight for $75, processing is $45 and I fill out the cut sheet so I get the steaks and chops cut to the thickness I specify, and I can get bacon and ham done as well though there's an added charge for it.

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