We have always prided ourselves in being a true partner with the farmers across the United States and around the world. Over the last couple of weeks through the pandemic of COVID-19, after seeing several social media posts of growers having issues of not being able to sell crops we decided we were going to do our part and help our agriculture community! Here is the article that was picked up by the Orlando Sentinel! Remember, we are all in this together!

‘They rot in the field.’ Florida farmers face destroying surplus crops because of coronavirus

ZELLWOOD — Fresh cucumbers are piled high in trucks at Long & Scott Farms, but a big chunk of this year’s harvest could be in jeopardy because of coronavirus.

Nearly a third of the farm’s 400 acres of pickle-variety cucumbers go to places like restaurants, said president Hank Scott, and the virus has destroyed that demand across the state and the rest of the nation.“They rot in the field,” Scott said of what will happen to his crop if there isn’t a buyer. “We’ll send a few loads to the local food bank. … We do a lot of donations.”

Florida farmers such as Scott are facing challenges getting their products to customers as measures to combat the virus also harm one of the state’s biggest economic engines.

Agriculture, natural resources and food industries in the state generated more than $165 billion in revenues in 2016, according to a University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences report.

“After donating hundreds of thousands of pounds of fresh produce to local food banks, there are reports of millions more that will go bad,” Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried wrote in a March 31 letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. “From one Florida grower who estimates 10 million pounds of tomato will be left on their vines to another making the hard decision to plow under one million pounds of green beans and four million pounds of cabbage.”

South of Clermont, 40 acres of blueberries at Southern Hill Farms were ready to pick around the same time coronavirus started to grip the nation.

Most of the crop is sold commercially, ending up at grocery stores across the country, but about a quarter of it is sold to people who visit the property and pick the berries themselves. This year, both parts of the business are hurting.

Customers are ordering online and picking up in their cars, said owner David Hill. While there would be plenty of room for people to spread out in the fields, Hill switched to the internet because he was worried about lines forming to pay or to use the bathroom.

That part of the business was down to about a third of normal.

“It has changed everything we’re doing this season,” he said.

Visitors also can buy sunflowers, sweet corn and peaches during spring, but the berries are what get people out to the property.

On the distribution side, demand for blueberries was “crazy” the first week or so of the season in mid-March, Hill said, but that dropped off, causing prices to fall by about half since then as the pandemic has taken hold.

Hill said farmers could face deciding between harvesting, packing and shipping blueberries to sell at a lower price, picking and tossing berries to allow more to grow and have a chance to hit the market in three to five days, or abandoning the plant.

“If you stop picking that bush, then you’re walking away from that bush for the season,” Hill said. “We haven’t pulled the plug on anything.”

The Central Florida community has stepped up to help support the farm. For his part, Chad Gillyard used social media to collect blueberry orders from his College Park neighbors.

The 38-year-old picked up 200 pounds of berries and distributed them from his house. He planned to do it again this week. (Total we helped sell over 500 pounds of blueberries and 350 pounds of peaches for Southern Hill Farms)

“They feel like they’re directly helping out the local agriculture industry,” said Gillyard, a Marketing Director for Magna-Bon II based out of Okeechobee.

But Hill worries about what will happen if coronavirus lingers late into the year, when the farm hosts visitors for a fall festival.

“We’re trying to make it through the spring,” Hill said. “If it were to shut down our fall operation as well it could theoretically put us out of business.”

‘We have to eat’

Planted northwest of Orlando between Apopka and Mount Dora, Long & Scott Farms has been growing produce since 1963. Its claim to fame — 25 acres of Zellwood sweet corn — will soon be harvested.

“You’ve got to make money, [to] stay in business, buy new trucks, new tractors and pay people right so they’ll come back every week,” Scott said.

A market there selling cucumbers, pickles, onions and potatoes has opened earlier than normal for customers looking to get away from the stripped shelves of grocery store aisles.

“We saw the need for people looking for fresh produce,” Scott said.

Jon Kurpil visited the farm for the first time last week. The 59-year-old Mount Dora resident said he was looking to “get out, get some fresh air, and … to come to a local farm and buy some fresh produce.”

It wasn’t the first time Randy Goff, a friend of Scott’s family, picked up vegetables from the farm. This time, the virus provided additional motivation.

“A lot of the stores like Publix are kind of crowded right now,” the 61-year-old Apopka resident said. “Just trying to be smart.”

As farmers like Scott work to sell their crops, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has launched a list to connect buyers with Florida farmers at fdacs.gov.

Commissioner Fried has also ordered a suspension of certain labeling and packaging requirements to help get eggs on store shelves faster.

As milk dumping has gained national attention, Fried has asked stores to stop customer limits on milk, according to a news release. Her agency is also working to get milk to needed areas and is trying to connect producers and cold storage facilities.

Agriculture is typically the second biggest industry in the state, behind tourism and vying with construction, said Gary England, of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences’ Hastings Agricultural Extension Center. While tourism might slow to a crawl during a crisis, farmers have no choice but to keep the lights on.

“The growers are out there trying to keep the product moving,” England said. “We have to eat. That’s not an optional thing.”

Contact Austin Fuller at afuller@orlandosentinel.com