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Home Grown: Local growers adjust to shifts in crop demand

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Restaurant demand plunges by 40% - Grocery demand increases 20-30%

WELLTON, Ariz. (KYMA, KECY) - Farmers across the Desert Southwest are feeling the effects of the pandemic. At the same time they're planting the seeds of eventual recovery.

John Boelts, owner of Desert Premium Farms, hopes to recover the losses he suffered during pandemic by continuing to grow what Yuma County is known for: lettuce.

"The closing of a lot of institutions and restaurants as had dramatic impact on our business," Boelts said. "People eat more salads when they’re out eating out at restaurants and cafés and cafeterias than they typically do at home."

He says the multi-billion dollar agriculture industry has suffered about a 40% loss because of the closure of institutions like schools, restaurants and food courts.

However, Boelts tells us, grocery story demand for his crops have climbed by as much as 30%.

The crop turnaround isn't a quick process, so the agriculture industry couldn't just put a stop to the growing.

"It takes a couple months of planning and preparation and a couple months of growing two to four months of growing to grow most of these crops, so that’s not easy to change direction and fix all that real quick," Boelts stated.

Boelts says the lack of demand has cause many crops to go to waste.

"There are billions of dollars worth of impact to  our industry, and so that I can’t be undone because these are perishable crops that won’t sit and wait for the consumers to change their mind or restaurants to reopen," Boelts explained.

The long time grower says, he's seen interest in farming jobs wane over the past 20 to 30 years. The ag industry now struggles to keep tractor seats filled with those willing to do the work.

Boelts says many farmworkers opted for unemployment when the pandemic hit. He says that's impacted growers' ability to pick and ship their produce.

"A lot of folks were maybe on the fence about should I go to work in agriculture or should I just stay home and collect this check," Boelts said. "Some folks have opted to stay home and that’s been a big challenge."

CBS 13's April Hettinger is taking a closer look at the problems created for farmers by the pandemic. You can see her full report today on 13 On Your Side at Four.

Coronavirus / News / Top Stories / Yuma County / Yuma County Coronavirus
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April Hettinger

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