COVID-19 isn’t just killing people. It also killed part of the spring lettuce harvest in the Huron district on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley.
And unless something changes, melons, garlic, and tomatoes could be next, warns farmer Mark Borba of Borba Farms.
Borba shot a video of a tractor pulling a shredder along rows of ready-to-harvest heads of green lettuce, which he said is happening across hundreds of acres this week.
Lettuce is grown on about 7,000 to 8,000 acres in the Huron district, which “produces about 90% of the nation’s lettuce supply during the three weeks from mid-March to mid-April,” Borba told GV Wire on Thursday.
But the harvest was hit head-on by the national shutdown to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, which is highly contagious.
Watch: Huron Lettuce Crops Shredded
Demand Dries Up
There was no demand for lettuce in restaurants and schools that were shuttered nationwide. Meanwhile, most people who are homebound have been stocking up on nonperishables, not leafy greens, Borba said.
“Suddenly when demand goes to zero, you end up with a crop that no one wants,” he said. “And that’s where we found ourselves.”
Borba estimates he’s having to shred about $1.15 million worth of lettuce — about 230 acres out of 680.
The video of lettuce shredded in the field posted to Facebook prompted some to ask why the lettuce could not have been harvested and provided to food banks, which are overwhelmed by demand these days because of unemployment created by the COVID-19 crisis.
Can’t Afford To Harvest
Borba said he would have been glad to donate the lettuce — “I’m gonna disk it up anyway” — but he couldn’t afford to lose more money on packing and shipping.
“At $5,000 an acre (to grow the lettuce), I’m not going to put any more money in it,” he said.
But even with the continuing uncertainty of how soon the nation will emerge from the shutdown, Borba said he’s proceeding with his seasonal plantings.
It’s what farmers do.
“We just planted our tomato crop and we don’t know what’s going to happen at harvest time, where they’re going to be able to deliver it, where they’re going to have agricultural labor, where the crops are going to be able to run,” he said.
“I mean, there are all kinds of unknowns out there, but you can’t wait around until then. You have to meet the growing window.”