By Clint Thompson
Count Daren Hanshaw in as one of the numerous Florida fruit and vegetable growers impacted by the coronavirus pandemic and the continued imports of produce from other countries.
Hanshaw who owns Hanshaw Farms in Immokalee, Florida, grows cucumbers, tomatoes, watermelons and cantaloupes on about 500 acres. He’s experienced the negative impact of the past month with all his crops.
“We’ve had a variety of ways that this thing has hit us. Obviously, we’re still waiting on about a $1.5 million of receivables of tomato money from the fall that these food service companies are not paying their bills,” Hanshaw said. “That hiccup started at the beginning of this before we really knew what it was going to do to our current crop. Our first problem was cash flow. The first problem was noticing that people were slowing down on paying their bills. That money is trickling in but obviously that money is what keeps this watermelon crop and this cantaloupe crop going and pays the labor every week for that.”
Hanshaw had about a 10-day period where he was harvesting cucumbers at $35 or $40 per box. That price dropped to $10 in the span of three days.
“It went from, everybody needing whatever you can harvest to well we better not harvest because we’re not even getting our labor and box back. The decision we had to make was to pull the plug rather than delivering them to the packing house basically just to trade money or to lose,” Hanshaw said.
“You had off-shore stuff still coming in to Pompano. You had Mexican stuff that was surging. It just seemed like the volume picked up just exactly at the least perfect time for us. On top of the fact, our customers were telling us they couldn’t take the product,” Hanshaw said.
Hanshaw said he has a fresh cut contract with two major companies, but just Monday did he receive the first three POs (purchase orders), where normally he should have had 15 loads per week. The demand for watermelons has dropped significantly and it shows in the market price. Hanshaw said the prices are 45% off of what they have been the past three years.
“I can’t disagree that there are more important things to get on somebody’s shopping list than watermelons. Obviously for us, in our world, they’re the most important thing going right now,” Hanshaw said. “I don’t believe that there is a surplus of fruit. It’s not like everybody down there has got a stellar crop. It’s demand and it’s competition with foreign product that’s beating us up.”