May 2021 Impact Assessment II
Lincoln: Crazy good season, challenging to keep crowd sizes down. Demand for product was “unreal” season went on, everyone became more comfortable with the restrictions. Bigger question for produce is what the labor situation is like. Fundamentally labor dictates prices. David no longer with auction. Has moved to wife’s family land in LaGrange, Indiana
Fairview: Overall public opinion has relaxed toward covid restrictions. Early sales seem to point toward another brisk season in 2021. Continuation? Running out of steam/momentum? Record setting year for $ sales. Increased sales are mostly attributable to higher prices.
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?
Lincoln: Buyers were smaller FM/Roadside stands—really really strong market there. Food supply customers were down considerably, BUT they were also facing diminished supply for their relatively decreased supply so not as bad as it could have been. Grower base stayed similar, by the time the great sales numbers came in it was too late to make many more production plans so those who were already growing were the ones who reaped the sales. Post-Covid, potential return of restaurants, etc. Expecting once there are no more restrictions a “return to normal” market trends.
Fairview: Increase in buyers looking for wholesale, tighter supply and increased demand = higher prices. Increased homeowner interest in both fresh and preservation. “Buy Local” sentiment was really kickstarted. When things return to normal, things may balance back out, but the stage was set for this past very successful year.
Chesterfield: Local food demand increased as seen in sales compared to 2019. The overall number of customers decreased, it is yet to be seen if this is permanent or temporary. More customers depended on our distribution systems and this seems to be permanent. We had access to quite a bit of emergency food access money, that put upward price pressure on the market that we don’t expect to see as much of in 2021. A more streamlined loading process was instated, and more monitored and organized parking that we hope to continue post pandemic.
Ohio: Sales and demand were up in 2020. Social distancing and mask wearing requirements were encouraged among auction attendees. Hopefully increased demand and sales are permanent. State and local health regulations will determine whether the requirements from 2020 will be required for the 2021 season.
New York: Yes, there was a sustained increase in demand at New York produce auctions beginning in April 2020 and continuing today. It is too early to say if these effects (high demand and price) will continue beyond 2021.
What types of innovations, pivots, or adaptations have proven to be the most impactful or important for your stakeholders or sector?
Lincoln: Order buying was very important and will continue to be important post-covid. Fuel prices will drive more order buying.
Fairview: Same business model as before, while including restricting and distancing. Some wider product layout, more space for movement. Some buyers like this in general. Does require more handling and shifting of products. Order buying saw an extra push, may be less going forward. In some cases, they arranged for some delivery.
Chesterfield: Distribution via online website, buying club model being offered at more sites, and produce prescriptions via health care provider partners.
Ohio: COVID-19 dimensions / requirements from 2020 really did not impact or change the local auction operations much. The increased demand and sales were the most impactful and beneficial for our local auctions.
New York: Adoption of CDC guidelines kept the auctions open and within local health authorities’ good graces. These guidelines may also have attracted or retained customers concerned about Covid-19 exposure. Order buyers (a service for buyers unable to attend auction in-person) were also well occupied during this time.
Given the innovations and adaptations you have seen, how would you say your stakeholders and/or your sector demonstrate resilience during the pandemic?
Lincoln: A lot is tied to the buyer community and the shift in buyer profile. Relative smaller size of market means the business is more flexible. No contracts or pre-buying also means more flexibility which this year was helpful
Fairview: In a word “diversity”: diversity of products different types of buyers (retail resellers took up slack from restaurants.
Chesterfield: Distribution, order buying, customers wanting to resell at the individual level, and from a broader geography increased. The outdoor sale of produce was perceived as safer and was very popular. Being able to serve customers via outdoor contactless pickups got customers to farmers and vice versa when protocols reduced in person bidding/buying.
Ohio: In terms of resilience Ohio was fortunate in that produce auctions were deemed essential businesses and business operations were not impacted, although some auctions delayed opening start dates due to local health departments not granting permission to open when auctions wanted.
New York: Adopting prevention measures to keep businesses open showed resilience. Willingness to work with Extension and local Departments of Health.
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.
Lincoln: Not much more than usual, paying attention to prices and trends in surrounding states, checking markets including Auctions and state-run Farmers Markets but all this is typical.
Chesterfield: Posting weekly market reports via Chesterhill Produce Auction.com supported remote buying a fact sheet from OSU Extension on covid safety during the pandemic was useful in developing protocols.
Ohio: Data provided by the local health departments was most useful and information provided by University Extension was second most helpful. No survey data was collected.
New York: Price data from auctions supported anecdotal info from growers on price trends; above 2019 levels.
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?
Lincoln: restaurant and grocery buyers, Flowers and ornamentals still up which “you expect to go down during really hard times”
Fairview: Just buyers in restaurant and institutions. Saw increase in ornamentals.
Chesterfield: Farm to fork restaurants, and restaurant buying in general was way down but anticipated to come back. Institutional buying-k-12 schools and Universities was way down to non-existent. Since one primary University buyer Ohio University was way down, and they require GAP Certified producers, it is causing some of the GAP certified producers to question the necessity of this, and that could have a negative long-term impact in selling to Ohio U.
Ohio: Some fall agritainment operations did not open in the fall of 2020. Hopefully, these operations re-open in 2021 for these businesses are big fall crop buyers at Ohio auctions.
New York: Some wholesale vegetable growers that serve institutional markets suffered, however retail sales were robust.
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.
Chesterfield: We have a diverse customer base ethnically and politically and experienced no problems.
Ohio: There was no questions regarding equity, access, diversity and inclusion among our Ohio produce auctions. Auctions are open to everyone to sell or buy.
New York: Although this is an important topic, most farmers are focused on the business of growing and marketing food. Within Extension we support the entry of groups historically marginalized and/or not included in farming and seek to further expand inclusion in our programming. Incorporating social justice and food sovereignty into our Plans of Work, engaging with diverse stakeholders.
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?
Lincoln: marketing graphs, publications, ID-36, variety trials
Fairview: need ongoing support for food safety training for growers as regulations continue to unfold.
Chesterfield: Partnering with emergency food agencies will remain important, as well as health care providers. The software—Auction flex we had in place. Served us well.
Ohio: Auction growers and management are concerned with determining the 2021 produce demand and how much acreage they should plant. Technical assistance by Extension Educators and Food Safety Team members are in high demand to help with adhering to health department regulations. Ohio produce auctions already have good partnerships with Ohio food banks which are the emergency food agencies in Ohio.
New York: I would like to see farmers and distributors continue to engage with agencies to develop community resiliency to threats like Covid in the future, to avoid disruptions to food access.