Crop diversification has become an even more critical factor for farmers and ranchers struggling with the abrupt closure of much of the foodservice industry. Will Pidduck of Finch Farms notes that the change in market demand has been particularly hard on their lemon crop. While various different relief packages have been made available to provide a measure of relief for producers it may not be enough to offset the losses experienced due to the extreme shifts in the market.
“We’ve seen a 20 to 25 percent decrease in fruit movement and that’s mainly attributable to the decline in the foodservice industry,” said Pidduck. “That’s a big hit. A large portion of the choice fruit goes to the foodservice industry and without that industry, the movement has slowed dramatically on the choice fruit. We’re still moving the fancy, higher quality fruit, but for the choice fruit and some smaller-sized fruit the movement has definitely slowed down.”
Finch Farms in Ventura County is a diversified operation producing mandarins, oranges, and avocados along with lemons. As a fourth-generation farmer Pidduck explained that market declines can be particularly hard on tree farmers, as they cannot just rip out a 30-year investment that was made in those trees. Crop diversification has become even more important during these times of market uncertainty.
“Diversification is key. Mandarins have been doing decently and avocados are doing well and so that makes the lemon pill a little bit less bitter to swallow,” said Pidduck. “It’d be a bad year if we just relied on lemons.”
The overall citrus market has taken a significant hit with the closure of schools, restaurants, and other important sales outlets. Early projections have estimated losses for the citrus industry around $200 million. Lemon growers appears be taking the worst of it, with losses of revenue expected to be between $4 million to $5 million per weeks for growers.
A variety of federal and state programs have been made available to farmers to try and assist financially as well as offer an outlet for excess produce that would normally be destined for the foodservice industry. Some producers have been able to supplement some of their sales by shifting to online platforms or farmers’ markets, but those options may not be feasible for all operations.
“We’re just not set up to function that way. We’re talking truckload upon truckload of lemons that we’re growing and harvesting at any given time and that volume doesn’t work for the small farmers’ markets,” Pidduck noted. “We are trying to take advantage of some of the aid with respect to payroll especially. None of it has happened as of yet but we have pursued it.”
Listen to the interview below.