Georgia farmer talks crop demand, disruption during coronavirus outbreak

Local farms helping neighbors get fresh produce

HALL COUNTY, Ga. — Georgia’s fruit and vegetable farmers are bracing for what could be a very tough season---that that has nothing to do with the weather.

Channel 2′s Berndt Petersen talked to one of the metro’s largest strawberry growers, who says some of the crop may die on the vine.

In seven to ten days, the strawberries at commercial farms all over Georgia will be ripe, but in many cases, there won’t be enough workers to pick them.

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They may not look like it--but, but the first crop of strawberries at Jaemor Farms in Hall County will soon be ready. This is the point where a farmer usually worries about a freeze, maybe too much rain or low prices.

"Never in a million years did I think I’d be worrying about a virus, messing with a crop I’m so close to bringing in," Drew Echols, with Jaemor Farms, said.

Echols said it has caused serious concerns, starting with his seasonal workers from Mexico. He needs 13, but it looks like he'll only get nine.

"You've got people who had Visas for 10 years in a row. They're watching the news every day and they're scared. They don't want to come here,” Echols said.

Echols said some of his biggest customers are the schools and restaurants. With the schools shut down, and restaurants either closed or reduced to carry out, demand has hit the floor.

While grocery stores are busy, customers are going shopping less often.

Produce is perishable. And they're not buying nearly as much.

Echols said all across Georgia, a lot of fruit and vegetables may rot in the fields, partly because there aren't enough workers to pick it, and partly because consumers stuck at home aren't buying.

He said some growers may not plant as much, for fear they won't be able to sell it, but Echols has reached the point of no return.

“We’re treating every single day like we’ll sell the whole crop. I have to. Until I get to that point, we’re not taking the foot off the gas --let- let’s put it like that,” Echols said.

Strawberry crops
Strawberry crops (WSB-TV)