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UF Economists Studying COVID-19 Impact On Florida Agriculture, Marine Industries

Kahley Novak fills an order with blueberries for drive in customers Tuesday, April 21, 2020, at Southern Hill Farms in Clermont, Fla. Customers are ordering their blueberries online and then picking them up by car due to coronavirus instead of picking blueberries themselves in the fields as they've done in seasons past. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
Kahley Novak fills an order with blueberries for drive in customers Tuesday, April 21, 2020, at Southern Hill Farms in Clermont, Fla. Customers are ordering their blueberries online and then picking them up by car due to coronavirus instead of picking blueberries themselves in the fields as they've done in seasons past. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

The University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is doing a wide-ranging study examining the impacts of COVID-19 on the state’s agriculture and marine industries.

Christa Court, an economist who’s the study’s lead researcher, says its goal is to inform decision making at various levels of government when it comes to disaster relief and recovery. There are individual surveys for businesses in five categories. Court is asking for more businesses to respond, in order to get the most accurate picture possible:

We’re covering anything from agricultural production, to processing, as well as transportation – that includes aquaculture,” Court told WFSU Thursday. “And then we have several other surveys that include marine-based commercial fishing, recreational fishing, for-hire and charter operations that do dive tours.”

There’s also a survey for businesses classified as “marine recreation support” like marinas and boat rental operations.

Researchers will be accepting responses until May 15.

Though there’s still more than a week left to collect respondents’ submissions, Court discussed some of the study’s early findings.

“With respect to agriculture, I would say that we’re seeing nearly all operations report losses of some kind,” Court said. “So if we were to look at what we’ve seen from different commodity groups … something like horticultural crops, where we’ve got a decent response rate so far – these are items that are grown in nurseries and greenhouses – they’re reporting individual losses ranging from 30 to 90 percent in terms of sales revenue, compared to the same period of last year.”

Court says there’s a larger variation in commodities like fruit and nut trees, as well as vegetable, melons and potatoes – where businesses are reporting sales revenue losses ranging from 20-100 percent.

Outside of the survey, Court says her team has heard from business operations that have been able to “easily switch” to a direct-to-consumer model – and have taken less of a hit as a result. She adds in some cases, those businesses have seen a sales increase.

“So, if it was a farm that was able to do a drive-up, or start selling boxes of produce through a farmers market,” Court explained.

Businesses interested in responding to the study can find links to the surveys by industry here.

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