Miami-Dade’s agricultural production ‘rotting on the vine’ amid coronavirus crisis

Growers of plants and produce usually sell their spring crops to restaurants, cruise ships and hotels. Because of the pandemic, they're struggling to keep the industry alive.

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – Antoine B. De Vallois enjoys helping to make dream gardens come true. But now, the coronavirus pandemic is killing his dreams at the Florida Tuxedo Plants nursery in south Miami-Dade County.

De Vallois’ nursery at 19650 SW 167 Ave. has more than 20 varieties of hibiscus. He has braided trees, lush ferns, crotons and palms. He said he is getting cut off from the market before he even begins to see his investment in the field.

He delivers to other states, but he hasn’t been able to move anything for weeks. Navigating the different restrictions in different states has also been very complicated. He estimates he has been selling only about 10% to15% of what he typically moves.

Florida Tuxedo Plants nursery is facing losses amid the coronavirus pandemic. (Local 10 News)

“I would say without any help, I don’t see how we could survive,” said De Vallois.

His family co-founded the business decades ago. The public health mitigation strategies to reduce the impact of Covid-19, the highly contagious respiratory illness caused by the new coronavirus, are testing Miami-Dade businesses like never before. Some are being forced to reduce their workforce.

The coronavirus pandemic is forcing farmers and business owners to reduce their workforce. (Local 10 News)

“I have been through hail, floods, hurricanes, tropical storms, but this is different,” said Sam S. Accursio, the co-owner of a large farm in Homestead.

The farmers’ vegetables and fruits usually end up at restaurants, cruise ships and hotels. With those businesses suffering, Charles LaPradd, who has served as Miami-Dade’s agricultural manager for about 15 years, said he is seeing markets just evaporate in an unprecedented manner.

According to LaPradd, the Miami-Dade farmers work on about 65,000 acres and average $830 million in sales annually. He said nurseries average $600 million in sales annually. This is the height of their growing season, he said. This is when they are picking and shipping off to the rest of the country.

“It is literally rotting on the vine,” La Pradd said. “This is worst than a freeze or cold snap because some of the produce is usually salvageable, but in this case, there is just nowhere for it to go.”

The coronavirus pandemic is affecting workers in the agricultural sector in Miami-Dade County. (Local 10 News)

Accursio has been involved with regulations and legislation on agricultural practices in Miami-Dade County. He has also been active with the First National Bank of South Florida. He said Sam S. Accursio & Sons Packing & Produce Inc., at 1225 NW 2nd St., started to suffer when authorities stopped on-site dining.

“We are seeing a big impact,” Accursio said. "To stop movement at 75% ... That is very scary.”

Accursio grows green beans, okra, zucchini, yellow squash and pickling cucumbers. He has donated about 4,000 to 6,000 pounds of fresh vegetables. Boyd Hamilton, who is also suffering financially through the crisis, passed by his farm on Wednesday and picked up a box.

“Very generous of him,” Hamilton said. “We really appreciate it.”

To avoid throwing away food, Accursio decided to organize a drive-through event on Saturday. He will be selling a box for $10.

“So what is around the corner next? We have no clue,” Accursio said. “We are optimists, but it comes to a point that financially you can’t continue.”

Workers in the agricultural sector in Miami-Dade County are suffering amid the coronavirus pandemic. (Local 10 News)

Here is a list of related links for farms and nurseries:

Local 10 News Assignment Desk Planner Kerry Weston contributed to this report.

About the Authors:

Christina returned to Local 10 in 2019 as a reporter after covering Hurricane Dorian for the station. She is an Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist and previously earned an Emmy Award while at WPLG for her investigative consumer protection segment "Call Christina."

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.