"Truly helpless": Farmers devastated by coronavirus pandemic
President Trump said Friday that he wants to speed up help to the nation's farmers, and farmers say it can't come soon enough. Dairy farmers in Pennsylvania are pouring milk down the drain because of dried-up demand from closed restaurants and schools, while others stand by helplessly as their crops rot in the field.
At Kern Carpenter's farm in Homestead, Florida, farmhands pick a few pallets — but the rest will wither on the vine.
"I'm just a small farm compared to some and I probably have in the neighborhood of 60,000 to 70,000 boxes that I'll leave in the field," Carpenter said.
About 80% of tomatoes grown in Florida go to the food service industry. But with restaurants drastically scaled back, and hotels, cruise ships, and even schools closed, demand evaporated at a time when the fields are bursting with produce.
"There's not enough customers for all the tomatoes, beans, squash, everything just raised in Homestead, we're all struggling," Carpenter said.
The strain on the farm economy is also costing jobs. Two hundred workers have already been laid off at Tony DiMare's packing operation because of the lack of demand. "The best way I can describe the situation we're in right now is truly helpless, because you don't know what to do," DiMare said.
"The clock is ticking," he added. "And every day that goes by is another box of tomatoes left in the field to rot."
For Carpenter, a third-generation farmer, the virus is threatening more than just a business — it's his way of life.
"You think you've seen it all," he said. "But I don't think anybody living has ever seen anything like this."