NY Farm Bureau Reports on Economic Fallout
The COVID-19 economic fallout has not spared the farming industry. The New York Farm Bureau estimates 65% of farms have taken a financial hit due to the global pandemic. It’s not because the demand for all farm products has slowed.
Judi Whittaker of Whittaker Farms in Broome County says the shutdown hinders her supply chain.
"We need repair parts for equipment. Getting them from the dealer to us has slowed down, so that slows down everything that we need to do, Whittaker said. "Some of it has come down to we're driving farther to go pick up the parts wherver they are instead of waiting for them to be shipped to us."
Even when the farmers are equipped to produce, it is difficult to sell. The Farm Bureau says restaurant sales are down nearly 20%. That’s a large chunk of Bittner-Singer Orchards’ bottom line. Jim Bittner says his operation has been forced to adapt.
"A farm like ours, we're strictly wholesale. How do you make that transition to start dealing with the public? We don't have a farmstand," Bittner said. "I don't have the staff to do that, but we're trying to figure it out. So what we've done is we're supplying more CSA's (Community Supported Agriculture). The CSA's that are equipped to handle more people are doing it, and we're supplying them with more product."
CSA's allow a consumer to receive fresh products straight from the producer. Less than 10% of farms report success in cutting out the wholesale middleman, whether that be restaurants or grocery stores.
In tune with the economic hardship, farmers are also taking COVID-19 safety seriously. Bittner says health should be the workers’ top priority.
"If somebody feels sick, the most important thing is they need to stay home. Do not push it. That's a different mode of operation for farms. Everybody toughs it out a little bit. That's not acceptable," Bittner said. "My biggest fear is we get into September, and we have a COVID outbreak. We're doing everything we possibly can to make sure that doesn't happen."
The Bureau is seeking more federal and state funding to help farmers comply with safety regulations, and stay afloat during the pandemic.