Del. farmers see direct sales grow, while others wait out pandemic
Delaware farmers are experiencing an immediate boom in selling directly to customers after a wave of panic-shopping hit the state, but other farmers are waiting out the uncertainty.
Richard Wilkins, president of the Delaware Farm Bureau, sees the pandemic as a “black swan” that came to disrupt the market’s waters that were calming down after two years of waves.
“We had every reason to believe that in February, our agriculture economy hit bottom. International trade was normalizing, [the United States] had new trade agreements worked out,” he said. “But this totally unexpected crisis is showing in the stock and commodity market, where crops are taking a hit.”
Delaware’s top crops include corn and soybeans. With uncertain international trade over the past two years, some farmers might have a surplus of last year’s crops in their silos only to see it drop. The season average price of corn fell from $3.80 to $3.30 per bushel in the span of two weeks.
Some silver lining Wilkins sees that farmers are more critical than ever to the supply chain. Crops will continue to grow, and with panic-shopping domestically, farmers have the supply to meet the demand.
“We need support from the U.S. Foods and Sysco, but we have to be able to meet the demand more frequently,” he said. “Many farmers are turning to direct markets which is also a positive.”
Rob Dick at Totem Farms in Milton is glad he opened a farm stand right now. He sells microgreens, collards and turnips to several restaurants in southern Delaware. That’s roughly 25% of his business that has suddenly dropped off during the pandemic. But he’s seeing more people calling in for fresh products.
“We’re definitely up in sales right now, and we’re adding a whole new group of customers,” he said. “People have to eat one way or another.”
It’s the same story with livestock farmers Beth Patrick of B&B Farms and Bill Powers at Powers Farms in Townsend. Typically, B&B Farms gains customers by word of mouth, but since the outbreak Patrick expanded her meat market by three days to meet the demand.
But she’s facing her own struggles since her four kids are home, since Carney closed schools until May 15. The meat market is only open in the afternoons.
“Usually I let them run around the farm, but I keep them indoors now. I’m trying to be cautious about who’s on the property, and I’m wiping down freezers after every customer,” Patrick said.
Miles down the road, Bill Powers is keeping busy to meet the demand for eggs and meat. He used to sell eggs and other wares to restaurants, but that’s slowed down, and carry-out orders have skyrocketed. He’s stepped up deliveries at Willey’s Farm Market in Odessa since meat and eggs sell out fast.
“We probably sold more on Saturday [after the state of emergency was declared] that I’ve done in my whole life,” Powers said. He’s been farming for 43 years.
Others like Paul Parsons aren’t too worried yet. All the supplies he needs to keep Parsons Farm in Dagsboro running are deemed essential right now, and he opens his season on April 16.
“I haven’t been in a oversupply situation yet. If it does happen, I guess we’ll take it to the Laurel Farmers Auction,” he said. “I’m excited to see what’ll happen for corn sales because people are buying in bulk now like they were a decade ago. Before this, people were buying two to six ears of corn.”
But some like Ryan Richards of East View Farms in Roxana are concerned about being able to pay off front-end costs. While he grows crops, his mother has been building her gardening business for decades. Right now, there’s roughly $80,000 tied into seeds and soil.
“I have 5,000 geraniums I’m watering, and I have no idea if people will have money to buy them or come out,” he said. “It’s only us and two guys on the farm right now. I hope people come out and support local growers.”
By Katie Tabeling