of excess products elicited a variety of responses ranging from dollar values to antidotal comments. Losses ranged from:
- Dollar values $500- $50,000
- Percentages 0% - 60%+
- "Lost about $8000 from a primary market. Then we switched and sold that product at one of our other markets. We’re vertically integrated”
- “We lost 80% of our crop to a May freeze and the other 20% went unharvested due to COVID-19.”
Livestock and dairy producers experienced disruptions in both their production capacity and market channels. Fifty percent of meat producers had problems getting animals into processors. Changing their cuts and packaging for new direct-to-consumer markets was challenging for 8.33% of these producers as they moved from restaurant sales to retail markets. Still, 25% of the meat and dairy producer respondents reported no disruptions in their processing or marketing avenues.
C. Revenue Categories
Respondents were asked to share the percentage of their sales by market outlet for 2019, prior to the pandemic, in 2020 with the pandemic, and then project their percentage of sales through their market outlets for 2021.
D. 2021 Projections
Production in 2021
Respondents were asked, “Are you planning to adjust what you raise in 2021 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic?”
- 42.31% Yes
- 19.23% Maybe
- 38.46% No
Revenue Expectations in 2021
Projected annual farm revenue 2021:
- 12.50% Less than $10,000
- 20.83% More than $10K but less than $50,000
- 20.83% More than $50,000
- 8.33% More than $100,000
- 37.50% More than $250,000
This is in comparison to their 2020 actual annual farm income:
- 12.00% Less than $10,000
- 32.00% More than $10K but less than $50,000
- 12.00% More than $50,000
- 12.00% More than $100,000
- 32.00% More than $250,000
The final survey question asked for a subjective evaluation of the changes in their operation due to the COVID-19 pandemic and their impact on the farm’s profitability.
- 44% Less profitable
- 20% Same profitability
- 36 % More profitable
Respondent profiles from this survey closely mirror the Maryland 2017 USDA Census of Agriculture farmer profile for average age (57 years old), average annual farm income ($53,997), and a majority of the farms being less than 100 acres. Two-thirds identified their farming location as “rural. The remaining one-third classified their location as “suburban” with most located in counties surrounding Baltimore City. Although national trends note the profit potential in producing certified organic products, 4x more producers identified their farming production as “practicing organic production methods” as actually were certified organic operations. Respondents were well educated with 76% being college graduates and/or holding advanced degrees.
There is no denying reports of market outlet disruptions for producers nationwide particularly through institutional sales, shuttered restaurants, and limited farmers' markets. Despite those same factors in Maryland, most survey respondents (62%) were still able to market their products through their previously established marketing channels.
Dairy and meat producers experience processing disruptions resulting in either total loss of their product and/or loss of potential sales. Fruit and vegetable producers that by-pass any processing stops found more willing buyers seeking locally grown and sourced food. Processing fruit and produce into value-added products and thus extending their shelf-life, also help mediate some of their market disruptions.
This survey was conducted in January 2021 when producers had the opportunity to examine their 2020 production and sales figures. This is also the time when producers often plan their next season’s production and marketing strategies. The majority of respondents are planning to make adjustments to what they produce in 2021. Although adjustments were not specified by product variety or volume, these producers do project an increase in their farm income.
The bulk of operations predicting the increase fall in the $50,000-$100,000 annual sales categories. This prediction would be predicated on an increase of product to market. Also, the market outlets are skewing towards a wider variety of direct-to-consumer connections with projected increases into categories in 2021 that weren’t major channels in their marketing plans in 2019. These outlets include home delivery, u-pick, sales to grocery stores, and even restaurants. Sales projections through farmers' markets are somewhat lower due to the increase in the variety of market channels served and the restrictive COVID-19 protocols that most markets will still be implementing.
We are now in the acknowledge-and-adapt phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. In many ways, COVID-19 did not show us new problems in our production and distribution systems but rather spotlighted the weaknesses in our current model. Maryland farmers have pivoted to more direct-to-consumer sales, aggregation, and adding value and convenience to their products to adapt to changing market circumstances. The University of Maryland Extension Marketing program in concert with other state and federal agricultural support agencies must continue to assist Maryland producers to:
- Understand the impact of business disruptions and triage the unexpected.
- Adopt more digital ways of working and connecting with customers, knowing this will likely have lasting effects.
- Mitigate risk to their business by utilizing training and resources available from various state and federal agri-service providers.