Stop Crop Dumping – How Farm to Consumer Sales Can Keep the Food Chain in Motion During the Pandemic

08 May 20

Are you experiencing a surplus in crops and perishable food items due to COVID-19? Here are some methods to keep it from going to waste.

Even when the world collectively stops, food crops keep growing. One of the most devastating impacts of the COVID-19 crisis is its impact on the food supply chain and farmers in America. Consumers are finding grocery store shelves empty, the produce section bare, the perishable goods shelves cleaned out, and yet farmers are struggling to find a market for their food crops. How can this be? The empty shelves equate to food shortages in the eye of the shopper, but the reality is the opposite – an enormous surplus in perishable food products and produce.

With only 50% of fresh fruits and vegetables grown in the U.S. going to grocery stores and other food outlets, the other 50% should go to restaurants, schools, universities, large businesses, ballparks, concert venues, cruise ships, and theme parks. With most states on veritable lockdown, restaurants only serving delivery and curbside pickup, concerts and events canceled, cruise ships docked, and schools and theme parks closed for the foreseeable future, where is all of that food going to go?

In most cases, it’s going to go down the drain and back into the dirt. The supply is there, but the demand is MIA. It’s a devastating scenario that is pushing many farms to the brink. Instead of walking away from your entire crop, there are some options.

What Consumers Are Buying

When the coronavirus first hit the U.S., people were rushing to the grocery stores to stock up on non-perishable items. The toilet paper hoarding of 2020 will go down in history, but it’s more than that. Every type of cleaning product, especially disinfectant and disinfecting wipes, as well as hand sanitizer, soap, and laundry detergent, is flying off the shelf.

For food staples, shoppers were filling their carts with canned soup, fish, and meat in addition to pasta, cereal, and other dry goods with a relatively long shelf life. Baking supplies have been in short supply as has coffee, tea, and alcohol.

When it comes to produce, there was an initial surge in sales as people filled their refrigerators to prepare for a couple of weeks at home. As quarantines stay in place, sales have stabilized at the retail level; the restaurant and commercial market have yet to bounce back, which leaves farm-grown food hanging in limbo and farmers hoping they don’t have to plow their business under along with the surplus crops.

What’s Happening to the Food

If restaurants, large venues, businesses, and schools don’t need food, what do you do with the food you’ve produced? With the steep decline in demand for your product, you can’t afford the same payroll. Without the same labor force for harvesting and processing, the food isn’t picked.

Even with full staffing, social distancing and extreme safety measures mean it takes longer to harvest. Food is left on the fields, in the ground, and on the trees. Plowing it back under and tilling it into the soil are the only options for many farmers. The mindboggling waste and unfathomable financial loss are leading some farmers to develop new strategies for food distribution to survive until the food service industry can reopen.

Thinking Outside the Box: Connecting Supply and Demand

Some farmers are shifting the way they get their product into people’s hands and onto their plates. The gaps in the supply chain have left some farmers with logistical challenges. Where they used to ship directly to restaurants, schools, and food distribution outlets, they now have to find a way to package and distribute their goods directly to the families.

This is when it’s time to get creative and think outside the box. Farmers are finding ways to connect their food supply with consumers who want to buy fresh produce, including:

Farm Stands

One way to get farm-fresh fruits and vegetables to the consumer instead of plowing them under is with farm stands. Now more than ever, people are looking for a safe way to buy food for their families with as little contact as possible. Farm stands are a great option to redirect your produce. In many states, there are a number of online resources and listings shoppers can use to find farms near them to purchase food directly from the farm instead of from the grocery store. It’s fresher, and it’s safer.

Farmers Markets

Another option for selling your agricultural products during this time when the demand has dropped dramatically is at a farmers market. With proper precautions and social distancing, it’s a convenient way to find access to many shoppers at once, all in one location.

Delivery Service

Local farms throughout the country are starting delivery service direct to customers. With a minimum order and small delivery fee, not only can farmers sell some of their produce, families can have fresh food delivered to their doorstep. This is a win-win with less food waste and a reduction in financial losses for the grower with nearly contact-free access to fresh fruits and vegetables for the customer.

Produce Boxes

Curbside pickup and delivery of produce boxes help combine goods from more than one seller. Co-ops are offering boxes of milk and other dairy products, eggs, fruits, and vegetables in pre-packaged boxes. Online ordering simplifies the sales channel so farmers can keep their staff on the payroll while supplying much-needed food products to local families.

Filling a Need for the Needy

Though the supply chain train may be off its tracks, the need for food has not diminished. This is especially true for low-income individuals and families. Food banks find themselves in greater need of resources than ever before. With unemployment skyrocketing due to stay-at-home orders, some people can’t afford to feed themselves or their families, and they rely on local food banks to keep from going hungry.

Growers in some states, such as Florida and California, are working with the government to sell surplus produce for food banks, charities, homeless shelters, and people in need. These resources typically rely on shelf-stable foods, which are now in high demand. With a switch to a surplus of produce, they have the chance to offer people healthy, nutritious, fresh foods, which is critical to staying healthy.

Fixing a Broken Food Chain

The broken food supply chain can’t be fixed overnight, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. Kennco Manufacturing is dedicated to providing the highest quality growing equipment in the nation. During this global time of crisis, we want to help our American farmers find ways to get around the broken food chain and survive until people are back to work, and the nation is once again open for business. Kennco Manufacturing will be here to make sure our customers can continue to support their customers, now and into the future.

Disclaimer: Use of the information presented in this article is at the sole risk of the reader and Kennco Manufacturing, Inc. takes no liability for that use.