A farm in the Mohawk Valley of New York.
(The Center Square) – A recent New York Farm Bureau survey of 500 members found roughly two-thirds of respondents have been negatively impacted financially by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The survey, which took place in mid-June, asked a dozen questions about the rural economy, health and safety of farmers and their workers, and access to personal protective equipment (PPE).
“What we found with this survey is that no farm was untouched by the pandemic or the economic fallout,” New York Farm Bureau President David Fisher said in a news release. “All of this underscores the need to continue to invest in our food system while also making health and safety a priority.”
Among key findings in the survey:
• 43 percent of farms have lost sales due to the pandemic.
• 37 percent of farms and agribusinesses are having cash flow issues.
• 84 percent have developed a plan to train and assist their employees to mitigate spread of the virus.
The effect of school and restaurant closures has translated into a 10 percent drop in demand for some dairy farms.
Unpredictability has affected other sectors as well, Jim Bittner, who grows apples, told North Country Public Radio (NCPR).
“All of a sudden everybody wanted small apples that were in bags,” Bittner said. “We spent a career trying to grow large apples to get premium prices. All of a sudden that’s not what the market wanted.”
The direct-to-consumer market has improved in some areas, including from greenhouses because more people wanted to spend time gardening.
Still, the survey found that with overall demand down, nearly half of respondents said they were cutting back on purchasing, like plumbing or building materials from local suppliers.
Keeping employees and animals safe amid all the uncertainty has been a major concern. Many workers have had to adjust to staying home when they don’t feel well., Bittner told NCPR.
“If you’re not 100 percent healthy, don’t come to work today,” Bittner said. “That’s a different mode of operation for farms. Everybody toughs it out a little bit. We have to educate people that it’s not acceptable.”
Fisher said farmers are doing their best to make sure food production doesn’t stop.
“But we need to maintain the ability to process, distribute and market what we produce,” Fisher said. “As the state and federal governments look toward potential budget cuts and additional COVID-19 assistance, agriculture must be a part of the discussion. It really does take all of us working together to have a strong, sustainable food system that supports the farm community and feeds yours.”