- The Northeast experienced significant drought, particularly in New England, where some areas saw severe or extreme drought, according to the USDA. While most vegetable growers have adequate irrigation resources, the drought has still caused stress to the crops and additional work for producers.
- Growers primarily selling to grocery stores have seen strong sales, while those who previously sold mainly to restaurants or foodservice distributors have had to adjust their marketing.
- For growers selling direct-to-consumer, the impact of COVID-19 has been variable. Demand from consumers for local produce has been strong, and some CSA farms reported their strongest year ever. However, operators of farm stands and farmer’s markets have had to make significant adjustments to deal with the virus, and sales have varied based on local restrictions on operations as well as the willingness of consumers in the area to come out and shop.
- For some farms, finding workers, and keeping them healthy has posed significant challenges, especially for farms with worker housing.
- The availability and cost of labor remains a significant challenge for the sector. Initial concerns about the availability of H-2A workers were largely resolved, but both minimum wage and the Adverse Effect Wage Rate for H-2A increased significantly in many Northeast states. Growers have had to closely monitor their labor costs and try to gain efficiencies in order to remain profitable.
- 2019 crop marketing: After initial market disruptions early in the year, the COVID-19 pandemic had little overall effect on potato markets throughout the summer months. With only a few exceptions potatoes were delivered to their intended markets at profitable and/or contracted prices, which allowed the majority of potato growers in Maine to generally have a profitable year.
- 2020 crop planting/condition: The growing season in Maine was one of the driest on record. September rains failed to materialize and a series of frosts in late September brought the growing season to an earlier than expected end. Dry conditions persisted during the early part of harvest but allowed most growers to finish harvest ahead of schedule. Yields are widely variable across the region and are reported to be down 20-40% from last year, although some irrigated acreage produced good average yields.
The quality of the crop appears to be very good and should result in improved price per cwt over last year, which should help to offset some of the lower yield. Potato markets continue to be favorable, with supply generally in line with demand. Demand in all market segments appears to be strong, which should lead to continued strong prices for potatoes. The biggest uncertainty remains the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and how a resurgence of virus levels could affect demand. Most growers in the region have benefitted from USDA direct payments related to COVID-19 relief efforts, which should also help to offset the reduced crop yield.