Lemons Hit Hard by COVID-19 Losses

Len WilcoxCalifornia Corner, COVID-19, lemons

Richard Pidduck Farm, Santa Maria, California

Lemon growers are seeing good production this year, but the market for choice lemons has been ruined by COVID-19 food-service industry losses.

“We’ve seen 20 to 25 percent decrease in fruit movement, and that’s mainly attributable to the decline in the food-service industry,” according to Ventura County lemon grower Will Pidduck.

Ironically, it is otherwise a good year for lemons in Ventura County. “We’re growing great quality fruit. The quantity is great,” said Pidduck.

However, with the coronavirus pandemic forcing the closure of restaurants, schools, cruise lines and other commercial food-service operations, the market for an entire class and size of lemon has all but vanished.

“That’s a big hit,” Pidduck said. As a fourth-generation citrus grower in the Ventura area, Pidduck also grows mandarins, oranges and avocados, but is primarily a lemon grower.

“A large portion of the choice fruit goes to the food-service industry. And without that industry, it’s bad. The movement has slowed dramatically on the choice fruit,” Pidduck said. “We’re still moving the fancy, the higher quality fruit. But for the choice and some smaller-sized fruit, it definitely slowed way down.”

While lettuce and other specialty crop growers have put together boxes for consumers or have started selling at farmers’ markets, Pidduck says this is not a workable option for lemon growers.

“We’re just not set up to function that way. We’re talking truckloads of lemons that we’re growing and harvesting at any given time. And that volume just doesn’t work for the small farmers’ markets.”

Saticoy Packing, Ventura, CA

When asked about government emergency assistance, he added, “We are trying to take advantage of some of the aid with respect to payroll especially. None of it has happened as of yet. But we have pursued it. And as for taking it on the chin, we’re just growing as usual. Being tree farmers, it’s not something we can just rip out and start over. We’re looking at a 30-year investment putting these trees in the ground. So we will hang in there and hope that the food-service industry starts coming back to life and we start seeing more movement of our lemons.”

Learn more about expected COVID-19 damages to the U.S. citrus industry.

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About the Author

Len Wilcox

Correspondent at Large for Citrus Industry Magazine and AgNet West