Farmers destroy crops grown for restaurants, hotels


ORLANDO, Fla., April 6 (UPI) — U.S. farmers have destroyed millions of pounds of perishable food like tomatoes, lettuce and green beans because growers lost a vast number of customers after the coronavirus pandemic struck.

“It’s a catastrophe, it really is,” said Tony DiMare, a long-time tomato grower based in Palm Beach County, Fla.

DiMare said he let 10 million pounds of tomatoes rot on the farm in a region south of Miami because no market existed for them.

“It’s been a disaster at every level — lost crops, lost sales, lost packing inventory,” DiMare said.

The closure of food-service establishments in many parts of the country in March meant that farmers who grow produce for those customers suddenly had a large surplus in storage and in the fields.

Growers said efforts to find retailers or food banks failed, forcing them to plow under their crops. Without immediate aid from government stimulus funding, they said they will have to destroy more food.

Growers impacted early

Growers felt the pandemic impact early in tourism-dominated Florida, where many farms sold directly to the local hospitality industry. South Florida is a major producer of winter vegetables, which are harvested when much of the rest of the country isn’t growing produce.

“It will be hard to continue as we have been unless we can get relief from the [federal] stimulus package or business interruption insurance,” DiMare said.

The largest trade group for produce growers, the United Fresh Produce Association, is trying to persuade the U.S. Department of Agriculture to distribute aid to its members quickly, said Mary Coppola, the association’s vice president of marketing and communications.

“We’re trying to open channels where we can with national retailers, in case one of their distribution centers can take produce,” Coppola said. “We’re talking to schools and food banks, even if we’re only giving away food.”

A USDA representative said via email, “We are swiftly evaluating the authorities granted under [the stimulus package] and will leverage our programs to alleviate disruption as necessary.”

DiMare and other produce farmers — already dealing with rising foreign competition — now face a disastrous year and loss of income.

“Farmers are very resilient. But this is new territory,” said Toby Basore, one of the largest lettuce growers in the eastern United States, also based in Palm Beach County. “If the crews start getting sick, who is going to harvest the crops.”

Produce grower Paul Allen, who oversees 8,000 acres of farms in Palm Beach County, said he plowed under a million pounds of green beans there in March. Allen said food banks in the region already were overwhelmed with produce donated by the state’s shuttered tourism and food-service industries.

‘Nowhere for it to go’

“When the restaurants are shut down, there’s just nowhere for it to go,” said Allen, who also is chairman of the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association.

Allen said he donates regularly to food pantries and that he hates to destroy crops, but he couldn’t face the expense of harvest with nowhere to send the crop. That’s partly because green beans are highly perishable, and about half the crop in Florida normally goes to hotels and restaurants that are, for the most part, closed or doing little business.

On the West Coast, demand for fresh vegetables also plummeted in the rich cropland near the San Francisco metropolitan area, said Chris Valadez, president of the Grower-Shipper Association of Central California.

“Demand from restaurants or food service is way down,” said Valadez, who represents about 300 farms and processing companies. “We are trying to shift strategy away from food service and to retail outlets, but it doesn’t happen overnight.”

He said many retail businesses saw a surge in buying as people stocked up to isolate at home, but even that has dropped off.

The major harvest season for the Salinas Valley begins in a few weeks, he said.

Cost to donate

“Some of the harvest can be donated, but the costs involved in harvest would be tremendous for that volume,” Valadez said. “The only thing that can help is government funding through the stimulus packages that were recently approved. Hopefully, we will see that soon.”

He would rather see direct payments to farmers to make up for economic losses, but he said some government money might go to schools and institutions that would buy the fresh produce.

By contrast, farmers in the colder northern regions of the United States don’t have the same immediate trouble. Some have started donating stored, surplus grain to processors who wrote checks to food banks, according to the Illinois Farm Bureau.

“I saw that food banks were getting pinched by a lack of donations and higher demand. It was clear that the situation would only get worse as time goes on,” said Nik Jakobs, whose family’s farm is about 120 miles west of Chicago.

Demand at those food banks is growing, but unpredictable, said Steve Ericson, executive director of Feeding Illinois, a statewide network of food banks. He said some local greenhouses donated produce, but food banks in his area still could use more.

“Our food banks are seeing 20 percent increases in demand, generally,” Ericson said. “When we set up drive-throughs, we are getting 50 percent more people than expected.”

9 thoughts on “Farmers destroy crops grown for restaurants, hotels

  1. Food waste is tragedy. If only a “Come And Get It” call could have gone out to ordinary folks who could freeze or can or dehydrate the food and save what is savable. I guess that would be way too grassroots for them to allow. After all, you just can’t show that the people themselves have intelligent solutions.

    Aside (few things more delicious than sun-dried tomatoes, used properly)


    1. The enemy is defecating on the crops in the fields, you can thank traitors like Bill Gates for that.

      Get a rope, you can watch me stretch the son of a bitch.

    2. Also bear in mind (and I hate to say this) that many people have no clue as to how to water bath can tomatoes or pressure cook other vegetables for canned storage, or have food dryers or know how to sun-dry tomatoes. I myself learned from some rural-raised lady and taught my daughter (part of home school home-economics). Folks have been living in comfort too long…time to learn age-old skills and bushcraft!

    3. When I was a kid, where I lived is next to some huge potato farms. Every year after the machines finished harvesting, everybody in town would go out there with big burlap bags and pick up what the machines had missed. And there were a lot. As much time as it would take you to walk and pick up, every other step or two, everybody in town got them a year’s worth of potatoes.
      It would have been intelligent for these farmers to just announce to the people, “Come and get them” but no doubt this is something the insurance companies who insured those crops would never allow. And not to worry for the industrial farmers, they will get paid top dollar for every vegetable loss.
      It is not a tragedy, it is a sin to waste food in any circumstance.

      1. Yeah, a MORTAL SIN!!. I too, have neighborhood memories of abundance and generosity. Whenever a certain tree was going off, the whole block knew and waited in anticipation for their delicious share. Cherries, mulberries, figs, etc. And EVERY house had a garden with all growers taking pride in their yield. That’s the real “gold.”


        1. ps, Henry, I forgot to mention that is quite a beautiful potato story. I could just see you bringing those potatoes home, all proud of your haul. Some memories are also gold.


  2. We lost a great song-writer today. R.I.P. John Prine:

    That’s How Every Empire Falls:

    Caught a train from Alexandria
    Just a broken man in flight
    Running scared with his devils
    Saying prayers all through the night
    Oh but mercy can’t find him
    Not in the shadows where he calls
    Forsaking all his better angels
    That’s how every empire falls
    The bells ring out on Sunday mornng
    Like echoes from another time
    All our innocence and yearning
    And sense of wonder left behind
    Oh gentle hearts remember
    What was that story? Is it lost?
    For when religion loses vision
    That’s how every empire falls.
    He toasts his wife and all his family
    The providence he brought to bear
    They raise their glasses in his honor
    Although this union they don’t share
    A man who lives among them
    Was still a stranger to them all
    For when the heart is never open
    That’s how every empire falls
    Padlock the door and board the windows
    Put the people in the street
    “It’s just my job, ” he says “I’m sorry.”
    And draws a check, goes home to eat
    But at night he tells his woman
    “I know I hide behind the laws.”
    She says, “You’re only taking orders.”
    That’s how every empire falls.
    A bitter wind blows through the country
    A hard rain falls on the sea
    If terror comes without a warning
    There must be something we don’t see
    What fire begets this fire?
    Like torches thrown into the straw
    If no one asks, then no one answers
    That’s how every empire falls.


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