Farmers seeing drastic swings in food demand due to COVID-19 pandemic

Yuma County, in Southwestern Arizona, is a huge farming community that grows more than 175 different crops year-round, but like many other communities, the county's farming community is not able to escape the impact of COVID-19.

The swings for farmers have been drastic during the pandemic, with panic buying followed by a drop in demand when restaurants and schools closed, as well as having to conform to CDC guidelines for farmworkers.

Farmer John Boelts says he hopes people can remember there is no such thing as fast food.

"When people abruptly change their buying practices, not just where they’re buying but what they're buying, that impedes what the farmer’s ability to grow and supply what they're after when they go the store or restaurant," said Boelts.

Boelts says another challenge for Arizona farmers is labor, as many of these crops are hand-harvested. That, along with a lack of a consistent immigration policy, means many of those hands are no longer available.

"We don’t have enough workers in agriculture, and even with folks not being employed in the near term because of this situation, we won’t see a lot of those folks switch to a job in agriculture," said Boelts.

Boelts says at his farm, 16 acres of lettuce went unharvested this season, representing a waste of food and resources. He can't predict what would happen if large community spread comes to Yuma County and affects a large number of agriculture workers.

"It certainly will impact, and we will start to see some fluctuation on the supply side," said Boelts. "I just encourage consumers to try to continue to buy what they normally would have bought, so we don’t see food going to waste."

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Yuma County COVID-19 Information

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