Weather conditions across the Northeast were relatively favorable in 2019, for 2020, spring is looking good so far, although it is still early in the season.
For the fresh market, yields have generally been good, but pricing has been rather volatile. Reports from a number of growers indicate that wholesale pricing was generally down across the board in 2019.
The coronavirus crisis threatens to have a major impact on this sector. While generally considered “essential” businesses, finding workers and keeping them healthy poses significant challenges. Farmers who sell direct-to-consumer could be severely impacted. Regulations regarding what can and cannot open are inconsistent. Some areas have allowed farmers’ markets to open, while other areas have not.
Direct to consumer channels such as 2020 Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) subscriptions, online ordering, curbside pickup and delivery have all seen increases due to the coronavirus, however have also strained operations on many farms.
Supermarket produce sales have increased significantly, while food service sales have all but disappeared. Producers will have to navigate this significantly changed landscape once crops start coming to maturity. Those selling to restaurants will have to alter their marketing.
The availability and cost of seasonal farm labor continues to be a major issue for many vegetable growers. Several Northeast states have increased minimum wages, leading to higher costs. New York has passed mandatory overtime after 60 hours per week for farm workers, and permits the organization of unions. New York growers are nervous and uncertain about what this season will bring. Availability and logistics surrounding H-2A workers is a major concern.
2019 yields were average to above average, with growers being pleasantly surprised at overall yields despite a dry August. Quality appears to be excellent, as there was essentially no disease pressure throughout the growing season. The french fry processing crop had better specific gravity than the previous year, which translated into improved price per cwt on the crop. A relatively warm fall also ensured excellent color quality on both the french fry and chipstock crop. The seed and tablestock crops also reported excellent yields and quality.
Given the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been reports that demand for potatoes for potato chips have increased recently, though there is some weakness in the french fry market.
Going into 2020, market conditions were favorable. A poor growing season for Idaho and other upper Midwest states, as well as western Canada left the market in short supply. Processing contract volumes generally increased for the 2019 crop. Some of this was driven by increased export demand. In many cases, open processing supplies were purchased by processors at contract prices or above. Tablestock markets have been above previous year levels in most areas. Seed markets have had strong demand with prices expected to remain at or above the previous year.
An Early Season Check-in for Northeast Fruit and Vegetables Markets: The impacts of COVID-19 and beyond