Agricultural workers harvest greens west of King City, clearing the fields of those late spring crops. With less demand for produce due to restaurant closures, the ag industry looks toward future crops with uncertainty. (Photo by Sean Roney)

SALINAS VALLEY — The results of a survey intended to better understand how Covid-19 has impacted Monterey County agriculture was released May 4 by Agricultural Commissioner Henry Gonzales.

Survey results showed a total of 2,093 acres lost or not planted.

“The survey is a preliminary look at what is happening and provides information to forecast the future,” Gonzales said. “A final tally of losses will not be possible until the Covid-19 pandemic passes.”

The Agricultural Commissioner’s Office conducted the survey between April 20 and 24. In the survey, 186 vegetable and berry growers were contacted, with an overall response rate of 62 percent, meaning 116 growers responded. Of those, 44 growers reported losses.

Of the growers who responded, 39 percent advised of losses ranging from 5 percent to 90 percent, and nearly 20 percent said they had crops that were ploughed under, such as lettuce, broccoli, spinach, cauliflower, wine grapes, artichokes and lemons. Berry growers did not report losses as the season has yet to start in earnest.

Of the participants, 60 percent indicated there has been low demand from the food service industry. In light of all the food that has been reported as destroyed, five coolers and one grower indicated they had donated produce to area food banks.

Marketing issues were reported by 70 of the growers, which include low demand in general, low demand from the food service industry, a saturated market, and contract orders being reduced.

“Changes to the marketplace since the Covid-19 shelter-in-place orders has jeopardized the ability of many farms to remain financially stable, and to date, federal relief programs have offered little in assistance,” said Farm Bureau Executive Director Norm Groot. “Specialty crops have been hit hard by changing consumer choices and reductions in restaurant food supply services.”

As far as operations, some growers mentioned difficulty in obtaining personal protective equipment (PPE) for their employees out in the fields or other production areas. They also reported shortages of disinfectant supplies, noting additional costs while experiencing unprecedented losses. A total of 14 growers reported PPE and disinfectant shortages.

“While this survey reflects only a glimpse of some on-farm economic impacts, we anticipate that in the months ahead, the full picture will reveal significant supply-chain impacts,” according to Grower-Shipper’s Association President Chris Valadez. “A longer term perspective will likely demonstrate the extraordinary measures taken by growers, shippers and processors to protect farm workers while maintaining the continuity of our food supply during this unprecedented pandemic.”

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Sean Roney is a freelance reporter for King City Rustler and Salinas Valley Tribune, a unified publication of Greenfield News, Soledad Bee and Gonzales Tribune. He covers general news for the Salinas Valley communities in South Monterey County.


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