Northeast farmers: Drought, labor and COVID

Source: Fresh Plaza

The Northeast experienced significant drought in 2020, particularly in New England where some areas saw severe or extreme drought, according to USDA.

While most vegetable growers have adequate irrigation resources, the drought still caused stress to crops and additional work for producers. Dry weather continued across the region over the winter, and right now much of New York and New England is abnormally dry or in moderate drought reports farmprogress

Growers primarily selling to grocery stores have seen strong sales, while those who previously sold mainly to restaurants or food-service distributors have had to adjust their marketing.

For growers selling direct to consumers, demand for local produce has been strong, and some Community Supported Agriculture farms reported their strongest year ever in 2020. However, operators of farm stands and farmers markets have had to make significant adjustments to deal with the pandemic, and sales have varied. In many cases, operators who adapted their direct-to-consumer business model realized a significant improvement to gross and net profit margins.

Vegetable processors in New York are at capacity because of increased demand resulting from an uptick in home cooking that used more frozen and canned vegetables. The industry continues to consolidate with no new players entering the market.

Processors are reluctant to place extra capacity as market decline had been steady before 2020. Growers of sweet corn, snap beans and peas usually have soybeans and corn as an alternative, and will shift to commodity grain if processors remain at 2020 pricing.