CASNR researcher helps gauge COVID-19’s toll on fruit, vegetable production
By: Norman Martin
At the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, many retail stores experienced shortages of certain fruits and vegetables because of the disruptions to farm labor and workers in processing. With major crop losses in lettuce, apples and grapes, a research team that included a professor from Texas Tech University's Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics estimates up to $48 million in losses during this time.
In a new report from the Agricultural & Applied Economics Association, titled "The Effects of COVID-19 on Fruit and Vegetable Production," William Ridley from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Stephen Devadoss, Emabeth Thompson Endowed Professor at Texas Tech, explored COVID-19's effects on fruit and vegetable production in light of the ongoing and widespread proliferation of the pandemic in the farm labor force.
According to the study's authors, COVID‐19 has had unprecedented effects on the U.S. economy, in large part because of its effects on workers. Within food and agriculture, these effects pose the greatest threat to the production of labor‐intensive commodities—in particular, fruits and vegetables, the production of which tends to require large numbers of workers for harvesting and packing.
The researchers econometrically estimate the effects of COVID‐19 on fruit and vegetable production as the U.S. agricultural labor supply is adversely affected by this pandemic. The major crop losses include $16 million in lettuce, $5 million in apples, and $4 million in grapes.
Many of the largest outbreaks of the virus have disproportionately affected farm workers, with the conditions under which many workers live and work, such as close‐quarters dormitory‐style housing for migrant laborers, contributing to the virus's spread. Such conditions have led to significant and ongoing outbreaks in some of the country's largest fruit‐ and vegetable‐producing regions.
Among the study's findings were anticipation that disruptions to the labor force in fruit and vegetable production will cause millions of dollars in lost production, with the heaviest losses concentrated in large fruit‐ and vegetable‐producing states such as California, Arizona, Washington, and others.
These losses are incurred across several important commodities, including lettuce, apples, grapes, and strawberries, the production of which tends to be located in areas hit hard by the epidemic. In the team's county‐level analysis of production effects, millions of dollars of losses are concentrated in only a handful of major fruit‐ and vegetable‐producing counties.
Putting the findings in context, however, it is clear that the industry is not likely to be subject to widespread production losses even in extreme scenarios. Millions of dollars in losses for a multibillion‐dollar industry are not trivial, but neither are they cataclysmic.
The fact that a significant disruption to a sector already facing labor‐supply challenges will have minimal effects in the aggregate speaks to the resilience of the sector and stands in contrast with industries such as meat processing that have been afflicted by significant production bottlenecks as a result of the pandemic.
CONTACT: Stephen Devadoss, Professor and Emabeth Thompson Endowed Professor, Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, Texas Tech University at (806) 834-6260 or email@example.com
1222NM20 / PHOTO: USDA ARS – Lettuce/Jose Orozco; Apples/Keith Weller; and Grapes/Jack Dykinga