North American Farmers Direct Marketing Association (NAFDMA)
May 2021 Impact Assessment II
Compared to pre-COVID normal, are there dimensions of your sector that have experienced a sustained increase or reduction in activity? What aspects of Pandemic disruptions or adaptations were temporary, and which appear to be longer lasting? Do any appear to be permanent?
Overall, agritourism operations have seen an increase in spending and activity. Farms were seen as a “safe,” outdoor activity during COVID-19, so the public flocked to them as a source of entertainment when nearly all other forms of entertainment were closed. In addition, farm shops were smaller and less crowded during the week, so shoppers felt safer purchasing produce from these locations, in addition to supporting their local and regional farms and businesses.
Field trips were non-existent in the past year, so if a farm relied upon that income – they had a major decrease in activity. Most farms pivoted from their field trips and simply opened the farms to a broader audience. They felt their farms actually ran more smoothly because of the transition. The downside is that many farms also enjoy the education aspect of teaching children (and adults) about agriculture – and field trips provide a perfect conduit for this exposure.
Timed ticketing was almost universally adopted by our industry and most have said they will maintain its use in some capacity in the future. Knowing a base number of expected attendees at the farm assisted with staffing levels and adjustments to entry or high traffic points.
Overall – it remains to be seen if the higher attendance numbers and higher per capita spending are permanent. For the moment, it appears it may be. Customers who turned to farm stores for their basic goods and produce for the first time during the pandemic generally are still shopping at those same farm stores. Due to the seasonality of most farm shops and u-pick operations, most data will not be available until later in the year, however.
What types of innovations, pivots, or adaptations have proven to be the most impactful or important for your stakeholders or sector?
Curbside delivery, drive-thru delivery, online ticketing, and using social media to keep customers updated on sold-out dates and capacity limits.
Given the innovations and adaptations you’ve seen, how would you say your stakeholders and/or your sector demonstrate resilience in during the pandemic?
Farmers are resilient as a rule. The faith it takes to plant another seed in the ground after losing a crop to frost, drought, or torrential rain – requires true resiliency. Producers in my sector needed to make myriad adjustments, over and over depending on the guidance from the various authorities involved. In our case, it wasn’t just food safety or supply chain, it also involved public safety. Guidance from departments of health and the CDC were ever changing and our members constantly adjusted their protocols to abide by the new regulations. Staff and customer safety were always paramount, as well as product safety. In the face of ever-changing guidelines and customer expectations about what constituted safety measures, resiliency is the definition of the producers with which I work.
What data did your sector find most useful in navigating pandemic disruptions? Please share any survey findings, sales data, or other data/metrics related work that you, your partners or stakeholders conducted during the pandemic.
As an organization, we just recently implemented a benchmarking platform which has the option to track data more accurately for members and provide this type of information. Not all historical data has been compiled yet, so we do not yet have much data to provide to this question.
Aside from that, most of our data is anecdotal. We heard from members that overall sales per customer was up about 20-30% over 2019. Many farms needed to set attendance limitations to abide by various local regulations on capacity limits, and in doing so, sold out at those attendance limits during their busy weekends (peak u-pick harvests, fall pumpkin/corn maze events, etc).
The other data point typically provided included retail figures on value-added products (jams, jellies, bakery products, etc) which also saw around a 30% increase from 2019 data. For all these points, it is unknown if this is a sustainable trend from customers who have found value in supporting their local farm markets and local farm/agriculture venue, or if this is truly just related to the lack of other entertainment options.
Please note – despite higher sales, expenses were higher also. There was a greater need for staffing (especially for sanitation) and a limitation on the number of attendees at any single time who could be on the farm. Therefore, while sales were higher, the overall cost/revenue ratio remained relatively stable year over year.
Are there groups or sub-sections of your sector that are currently experiencing disproportionate negative impacts from pandemic-disruptions? Are there groups or sub-sectors that face disproportionate challenges in recovering or re-establishing operations as pandemic-disruptions dissipate?
Some of the agritourism farms cater to the wedding and event industry and those entities have seen a dramatic decrease in activity. In addition, farms which rely exclusively on field trips and school-related educational outings have been adversely affected during the pandemic. Most farms which catered to field trips and education pivoted to serve other areas of the public, so did not face an overall economic hardship, but there were some.
For those who focused on weddings and events, and had no other contingency plan, they continue to struggle at this time. They may have had no other outlet for their farm products and the event revenue cannot be regenerated in any other way until events resume.
How have questions of equity, access, diversity and inclusion shaped your sector in the past year, and what efforts (if any) are in place moving forward? Please provide as many specific examples as you are able.
Many of the producers in our sector work hand-in-hand with their local food banks or similar food recovery efforts to donate any leftover produce at the end of a season or at the end of a day at the farmers’ market. It is not typically a topic frequently discussed among the producers to highlight food access or inclusion, but they make a point to take the action as opposed to talking about the issue.
Aside from this, there is not typically much discussion on these topics. As an international organization, we strive to incorporate examples of diverse agritourism farm operations from around the globe in our educational offerings.
Looking to the 2021 season, what issues are top of mind for your stakeholders or your sector? Are there areas where cross-sector technical assistance (e.g. choosing the right online platform, partnering with emergency food agencies) would be timely for your sector?
Agritourism producers are keen to know if capacity limits will be implemented again this year. Cross-sector, training for response if/when that implementation occurs is critical. These mitigations would include upgrades to online ticketing, online ordering systems, knowing how to develop a good website, take good photographs, and integrate them together for a cohesive system for “curbside” or drive-thru delivery.
Setting capacity on a farm was incredibly complex and differed based on township/county/region/state. If capacity is going to be limited on farms again this year, some guidance from USDA may be of assistance for health departments to understand that a farm operation is not the same as an indoor venue.