GAINESVILLE, Fla. — University of Florida economists now have a baseline understanding of ways the pandemic has affected the agriculture, aquaculture and marine sectors of Florida’s economy.
According to Christa Court, who led a monthlong survey effort along with her colleagues in the UF/IFAS Food and Resource Economics Department, the one consistency across the responses seems to be inconsistency.
“In a hurricane, all citrus groves within the path of the storm likely have some oranges get knocked off the trees,” Court analogized. “But in this case, not every business, even across the same commodity group, was affected equally. Factors influencing losses might include size of operation, typical customer base, and whether those who lost a main outlet for sales were able to find buyers elsewhere.”
The Assessment of COVID-19 Impacts on Florida, conducted April 16-May 15, was developed to gauge impacts felt by each business given the unique demands of their particular sector. The five surveys covered agriculture and aquaculture production, processing and transportation; commercial fishing; for-hire/charter fishing operations; seafood wholesale dealers; and marine recreation support businesses.
Across the more than 1,500 responses, business closures were reported at much higher rates across the charter/for-hire (51%) and commercial fishing (49%) businesses than in other sectors. Among the other surveys, closures were reported among only 9% of the agriculture/aquaculture respondents, 18% of marine recreation support businesses, and 16% of seafood wholesale dealers.
“One thing we noticed among the marine industries as the surveys neared the closing date was an uptick in business sentiment,” said Andrew Ropicki, an assistant professor of marine economics and affiliate of the UF/IFAS Florida Sea Grant program. “Eighteen percent of charter/for-hire operators in May, when restrictions started to lift, indicated that their businesses were picking up from the lows they saw in recent weeks. In contrast, no April respondents had indicated the same.”
Ropicki, who led the marine industry analysis portion of the study, noted that commercial fishers reported the largest shift in usual practices. A majority of seafood is consumed in restaurants, he said, and regulations closed that entire segment of dine-in consumers. Instead, fishing businesses would sell to dealers, with preference going to smaller fish and certain species that are more popular at seafood markets.
Seasonality affected the responses within certain agricultural commodities, said John Lai, an assistant professor of agribusiness and another member of the research team.
“For some of these operations, COVID-19 hit exactly when their crop came into season,” Lai said. “March to May is a big harvest season for South Florida, in particular. We expect that when we conduct another survey, other commodities will also show more impacts as they enter their peak harvest times.”
The agriculture and aquaculture survey garnered the most responses, but it also represents the largest swath of commodities – Florida produces more than 200 throughout the state. The respondents represent both large and small operations and all 67 counties.
“The biggest impact to sales revenues reported on this survey, measured as an average decrease in sales revenues when compared to the same period last year, was among the horticultural crops group, which reported average sales revenue decreases of 46%,” Lai said. “But there were wide ranges of sales revenues changes reported within each commodity group, with some reporting positive results and others reporting total losses.”
For example, within the broad livestock and aquaculture group, which reported average sales revenue declines of 39%, the shellfish aquaculture group reported average sales revenue decreases of 80%.
The Economic Impact Analysis Program, which Court directs, deploys similar survey tools after natural disasters like hurricanes and wildfires. The pandemic, she said, has presented an unprecedented level of closures and uncertainty, which continues to ripple throughout all sectors.
“Even as our economy ‘reopens,’ we’re reopening to a new normal,” Court said. “These sectors, regardless of the product or service they provide, will continue to feel the effects of the larger impacts on our state and national economies.”
The research team is working quickly to analyze the responses offered in this survey, which also includes write-in statements. The final report will be posted in the coming weeks at the Economic Impact Analysis Program website: fred.ifas.ufl.edu/economicimpactanalysis.
Court says this initial survey will serve as a baseline as the COVID-19 situation continues to evolve. She expects to conduct another survey this summer, and subsequent surveys if the crisis continues and businesses continue to be impacted.