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September 29, 2022

Sector Spotlight: Key Issues Impacting the U.S. Fruit and Vegetable Industry 

AgAmerica recently attended the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association Annual Convention—and we’re here to report back on what issues are top of mind for Florida specialty crop growers.  

As fruit and vegetable farmers across the nation have experienced firsthand, inflation and farm labor have been two of the most significant issues since the onset of the pandemic in 2020. 

In an effort to curb rising inflation, the Federal Reserve continues to raise the federal funds rate, which is expected to peak around 3.4 percent. And the September 2022 USDA Farm Income Forecast predicts production costs to increase by 17.8 percent from 2021. As a result of these rising costs, farmers are seeing their profit margins contract, with more of their income being directed to input costs and debt repayment. This makes it difficult to focus on farm expansion and improvement efforts that contribute to greater profits.  

Higher costs are often passed to the consumer, making U.S. grown produce less competitive in the market. These challenges are motivating the fruit and vegetable industry to adapt its marketing efforts and focus on building meaningful connections between the American farm and community to ensure our domestic food production remains secure.  

Key Updates from the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association 

Three main topics discussed at the FFVA annual conference have been pervasive in the fruit and vegetable industry this year. 

1. Marketing that Connects Consumers and Farmers

Tommy Ward from 4R Restaurant Group and Anthony Dapice from Kroger led a session focused on the evolving desires of consumers and what influences their purchase decisions. 

Some of the factors influencing consumer decisions include rising prices and the resulting price fatigue. The pandemic shined a light on the importance of national food security, and communities quickly realized the importance of local farmers and supporting them with their dollars. 

As a result, demand for local direct-to-consumer farm products skyrocketed. In 2020, direct-to-consumer farm sales increased by 35 percent from 2019.  

People are becoming increasingly interested in learning more about the faces behind their food. Food retailers have discovered that many consumers are choosing locally grown produce and prefer food that has a farm story attached to it—even if the cost is slightly higher.  

Because of this, many farmers have begun including information about their farm through tools like QR codes to forge deeper connections with their customers. 

2. Shifts in Preferences for Packaged Produce 

Another result of the pandemic is the increased desire of consumers for pre-packaged fruits and vegetables. In response, there is more demand for retailers and farmers to sell products in individual packaging, which increases input costs and strains profit margins. This shift in demand for more packaging has also led to supply chain issues and packaging bottlenecks. 

If this trend lingers, affordable and sustainable packaging materials must be accessible to American produce growers to help them succeed.  

3. The Farm Labor Challenge 

One of the most prominent challenges facing fruit and vegetable farmers has been sourcing farm labor. This is partly due to challenges associated with the H-2A program and a declining interest in agricultural work among the U.S. population. Many farmers have begun partnering with other farmers to use one another’s labor. 

As we proceed into the next year, fruit and vegetable growers will need to continue innovating and finding ways to address the farm labor challenge. It’s important for farmers to be a part of the discussion when it comes to legislative reform surrounding immigration and farm labor to ensure policies are being created with the farmer in mind.  

AgAmerica Supports the Future of the Fruit and Vegetable Industry 

Supporting a healthy future for the fruit and vegetable industry is closely tied to legislative decisions.  When farmers thrive, we all do. 

“Relief for our injured seasonal and perishable growers is not just a matter of fairness but of food security for our country.”

That’s why it’s important for everyone, regardless of occupation, to support legislation that benefits agriculture. Using our collective voice to advocate for effective labor legislation and policies that prioritize American agriculture is critical to the future of the industry and the domestic security of our nation. 

Sign up for AgAmerica’s newsletter to have updates on agricultural legislation delivered straight to your inbox. 

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