Research: Direct-to-Consumer Sales Protected Farmers During Pandemic

Published online: Mar 10, 2022 Articles
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Professors from Chatham University’s Falk School of Sustainability & Environment are publishing new research that reveals the resilience of Pennsylvania farmers in response to COVID-19 market disruptions. 

Chatham researchers Miriam (Mim) Seidel, assistant professor of nutrition and internship coordinator, and Christopher D. Murakami, assistant professor of agroecology, discovered that while some Pennsylvania farmers lost revenue due to pandemic-related complications, others pivoted to a new or enhanced revenue stream that helped offset what could have been a financial catastrophe: direct-to-consumer (DTC) sales. 

According to the research, although initial economic forecasts predicted severe financial losses for small and mid-sized farmers as the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted markets, just under half the farmers interviewed (42%) reported a loss of revenue, while over half of PA farmers interviewed (58%) reported either no change or an increase in revenue in 2020. 

The paper, “Impact of COVID-19 on Pennsylvania farm revenue: Looking back at the 2020 season” was published in the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development. The paper was written by Chatham professors Seidel and Murakami, along with Chatham Master of Arts in Food Studies student Jasmine Pope, J. Franklin Egan from the nonprofit Pasa Sustainable Agriculture, and Chia-Lin Tsai, assistant professor of applied Statistics at University of Northern Colorado. 

“New and expanded direct-to-consumer sales have helped protect many Pennsylvania farmers from the economically disruptive effects of the pandemic,” says Ms. Seidel.  “The need to create resilient regional food systems is a cornerstone of our food studies program at Chatham, and this new development of DTC sales further underscores how farms and consumers directly depend on each other.” 

“Additionally, our survey confirmed something we’ve known was a regional business problem for many years: PA livestock farmers have long been hampered by an inability to access enough meat processing appointments to take full advantage of DTC demand,” says Dr. Murakami. “This is a complex supply chain problem that preceded the pandemic, and several possible solutions are being developed by local food systems experts, including our colleagues at Chatham’s Center for Regional Agriculture, Food, and Transformation (CRAFT).” 

Other findings from the Chatham research paper include vegetable farm revenue was slightly more resilient in 2020 than livestock/egg/dairy farms and farmers wondered if consumers’ appreciation and support of the local food system would continue once conventional supply chains righted themselves.  

Ms. Seidel and Dr. Murakami believe that without meaningful policy changes to improve infrastructure and consumer support for small and mid-sized farmers, challenges to establish a resilient and efficient local food system will persist beyond the pandemic’s resolution. 

For a downloadable PDF of this research, click here

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