COVID-19 altered the marketing plans of Southeast vegetable and specialty crop producers in 2020. Restaurants closed, which crippled certain sectors of the fruit and vegetable industry.
Farmers must continue to adjust as a new season approaches while the pandemic continues. Jessie Boswell, Alabama Regional Extension agent, who specializes in commercial horticulture and farm and agribusiness management, believes the pandemic’s impact has forced farmers to realize their marketing options needed to expand and could expand in 2021.
“I think it made a lot of farmers realize how flexible they have to be and actually noticing these other marketing channels that they have, they may not have even noticed it before,” Boswell said.
“A lot of them may not even have realized how to do those different channels. Maybe they’ve been meaning to look into it later, and this just kind of made them realize they’d have to be more flexible in kind of looking ahead more so than they were in the past.”
Farmers like Bill Brim in Georgia boxed their produce and sold direct to consumers to offset decreased demand. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) was another option that paid off for some producers.
“I know of a farm and they were planning on transitioning to a CSA last spring, spring of 2020, and they were already planning that before the pandemic even happened. They had a way better year than they even could have imagined,” Boswell added. “They had already started setting up for direct to consumer or a CSA box. They sold an astronomical amount. They sold out, actually.
“That’s probably what I have seen most people do is switch to more of an online (option) or CSA. Even some of the ones that aren’t technology savvy started selling stuff on Facebook, trying to sell their greens or whatever they had because their other marketing channels were not open.”
Of course, encouraging some farmers to consider alternate marketing strategies is easier said than done.
“I know a lot of farmers that like to do things the way they’ve been doing it for the past decade. They’re not always the biggest fans of change,” Boswell said.