Today's important COVID-19 news in the fresh produce sector

Corona-update: US farmers working hard to meet demand

While in the US, local farmers are working hard to meet the demand for apples and onions, it is still feared that travel bans will hamper US and Australian migrant labor flows. Still, Canadian sources have declared that international labour will be allowed into the Okanagan region.

Also, some jobs could really see a boom due to the COVID-19 situation. Also, we will address the recovery of the trade on the China-Vietnam border, the situation regarding Maharashtra’s grape export chain, Malaysian food exports, why Americans should 'hug a trucker' (after the pandemic) and much, much more.

US: Local farmers scramble to meet demand for apples, onions
The Hudson Valley's onion and apple packing houses are going full tilt as some unfortunate coronavirus panic buying empties the produce bins and grocery stores look to restock them.

“It's crazy,'' said Rick Minkus, co-owner of Minkus Family Farms in New Hampton and one of the Black Dirt region's biggest onion growers. “We worked 12 hours on Saturday and Sunday and we still can't catch up.”

The orders are a boon in particular for onion growers, who have struggled with record low prices and demand since they harvested thousands of acres in September - and who are poised to start planting next week. “You would have seen the physical dumping of onions if this hadn't happened,'' said Alex Kocot, co-owner of Harvest Queen Farms in the Village of Florida.

Apple growers, who use controlled atmosphere storage to prolong fruit quality and sell well into spring, also said orders have been higher than usual for the past two weeks.

Travel bans hamper US and Australian migrant labor flows
Across the globe, governments are imposing travel limits in a bid to stem the spread of coronavirus. The unintended consequence is a squeeze on migrant labor that’s a cornerstone of food production. American produce growers preparing to harvest crops are warning of a devastating impact on fruit and vegetables after the U.S. Embassy in Mexico announced a halt to visa interviews for seasonal farm workers.

In Australia, growers say the country may face shortages of some fruits and vegetables because of travel curbs, with the nation traditionally using overseas workers for one third of seasonal farming jobs. Kiwifruit pickers are in short supply in New Zealand. And in Canada, travel limits threaten meat processors that rely on temporary foreign workers to fill chronic labor shortages.

“There won’t be anyone to harvest the crops,” said Robert Guenther, senior vice president for public policy for the United Fresh Produce Association, which represents U.S. growers, distributors, wholesalers and retailers. “It will be devastating to growers and ultimately to the supply chain and consumers. They won’t have the food.”

"Farmers work round the clock to ensure deliveries"
The Israel Fruit Growers Association (IFGA) slammed retail stores for spiking food prices during the novel coronavirus outbreak in a press release. 

IFGA CEO Yaron Balchasan slammed reports that the country is about to experience shortage as “total fake news” and said farmers are “working around the clock to deliver produce.”  As no shortage is expected, the report slammed chains for raising prices “in an unheard-of example of bold-faced behavior,” Balchasan told jpost.com. “I hope the government will put a stop to this.” 

He added that due to restaurants and hotels closing down because of the new Health Ministry regulations, the real situation is of a fresh fruit and vegetable surplus. The press release on behalf of IFGA stated the nation doesn’t face any shortage of apples, as the current supply will last until mid-June with the 2020 apple picking starting in early June. 

Canada: International labour allowed for Okanagan
Foreign farm workers will be allowed into the Okanagan this spring, summer and fall, after all. Earlier this week it looked like Okanagan orchardists wouldn't have the labour they need to tend and harvest cherries, peaches, apricots, nectarines, pears and apples as the federal government closed the border to foreigners amid the COVID-19 crisis.

However, according to pentictonherald.ca, Wednesday, Federal Minister of Public Safety Bill Blair made an exception to allow foreign seasonal agricultural workers, temporary foreign workers, international students and foreign work visa holders to enter Canada. They will all have to go into 14-day quarantine, just as any Canadian returning from an international destination is recommended to do.

“This is good news,” said Glen Lucas, general manager of the 500-member B.C. Fruit Growers' Association. “Without foreign workers there would be a severe labour shortage. Orchardists were extremely concerned.”

The tree fruit industry in the Okanagan is an important one with $776 million a year economic impact. Foreign workers are a big part of its success because they are willing to do the pruning, thinning and picking work that most Canadians don't want to do.

In all, about 4,000 foreign farm workers come to the Okanagan annually between April and October. Generally, around 3,200 of them are from Mexico and 800 from the Caribbean, mostly Jamaica.

Chinese eat more fruit and veg due to coronavirus
A recent study by consultant firm Oliver Wyman suggests that the coronavirus is changing our eating behavior. The study in which 1,000 Chinese consumers were surveyed concluded that 40% of them started eating more fruits and vegetables.

Only one in five Chinese consumers maintained their usual diet during the outbreak. The other 80% of the 1,000 consumers surveyed changed their diet, half of them substantially. Fresh meat and fish/ shellfish consumption decreased among the Chinese population, 34% and 59% respectively. The consumption of eggs and dairy products increased considerably, by 35% and 33% respectively.

Read more about Oliver Wyman's study here

The increase in fruit and vegetable consumption may be linked to advice from Chinese experts from the National Health Commission of China that vitamin C may increase resistance to the corona virus.

Jobs that could boom in the COVID-19 pandemic
As reported on newshub.co.nz¸ a recruiting and labour-hire specialist company says the need for workers has increased sharply since the COVID-19 coronavirus began spreading.Agstaff, Canstaff and New Zealand Dairy Careers managing director Matt Jones is calling out to New Zealanders facing job losses to fill the "hundreds" of jobs it has in its system.

"The work does not stop - it's ramped up as some of our clients in the primary production sector increase production to meet New Zealand's needs. The cows still need [to be] milked and the crops must be picked," he says.

On Wednesday, they had a client who needed more than 40 people to start immediately in south Canterbury because the local manufacturers are trying to meet local food production needs. "Across the sectors we service, we have hundreds of vacancies, so we're calling out to all people who might be facing lay-offs as COVID-19 bites."

The kiwifruit industry is also putting out the call to workers affected by the disease, saying it will need more than 20,000 workers across the harvest and post-harvest period.

Significant volumes of kiwifruit are expected to be harvested next week and demand will remain high well into April, while final picking takes place in June.

Trade recovers on China-Vietnam border
Early this week, hundreds of trucks queued along a border bridge in Dongxing, a city in south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, waiting for customs clearance, a scene that signifies the recovery of trade on the China-Vietnam border from the COVID-19 epidemic.

Pham Van Tan was driving a truck loaded with about 20 tonnes of dragon fruit produced in Vietnam's Da Nang. Once passing the customs checkpoints, the goods will soon be seen in the markets of cities such as Shanghai and Beijing.

Pham has been in the logistics business for over four years. His main duty is to transport goods including fruit, seafood and farm produce from Vietnam to Chinese border provinces such as Guangxi and Yunnan.

Among the bordering cities Pham has visited, Dongxing, which is separated from Vietnam's northeastern economic hub Mong Cai by a narrow river, serves as a gateway to ASEAN countries. Vietnam stopped issuing visas for Chinese tourists in early February and partially closed the Sino-Vietnam border to prevent the spread of the virus.

Covid-19 does not affect Maharashtra’s grape export chain
APEDA, India’s Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority, has stated  despite the spread of the novel coronavirus and lock downs coming into force across Europe and China, export of Indian grapes has continued unabated.

According to APEDA figures, Maharashtra and Karnataka are currently exporting grapes and almost 99 per cent of the exports are from Maharashtra. The All India Grapes Export Association president Jagannnath Khapre told The Hindustan Times: “The export of grapes continue and we have been saved from the effect of the lock downs. The interesting thing is that the exports to Europe and China, which have been majorly hit by Covid-19, continue. We will receive the China export figures by the end of season (grape harvest season usually is between November and April). However, till March 175,258 containers (70,412 tonnes) had been exported to Europe. We have not received any instruction to ban the export to these nations.”

“As compared to the previous year, the export of the fruit has declined. Last year, till March 17, 6,182 containers with 83,145 tonnes was exported, but this year till March 17, only 5,258 containers have been exported.”

Spanish agricultural producers offer their fumigation machines to fight COVID-19
Agricultural producers from all over Spain are showing their solidarity with the rest of the population not only by maintaining their activity to guarantee food supplies, but also by offering their fumigation machines to the public administration to collaborate in the fight against the coronavirus by disinfecting the city streets.

The producers, who are licensed fumigators, are volunteering to help disinfect open public spaces to stop the rapid spread of COVID-19, since the use of this type of fumigation machine is much more efficient than treatments with small individual teams.

This is happening in all parts of the country, in the north, south, east and west; from La Rioja to Catalonia or Almería.

Source: hortoinfo.es

Fresh produce from Malaysia will arrive on time in Singapore
It was business as usual for suppliers of fresh produce this morning, as truckloads of fruits and vegetables streamed into the Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre, some from Malaysia, even after the country’s nationwide lockdown took effect at midnight.  

With the exception of slight delays of up to an hour for some, batches of produce from Malaysia arrived at the wholesale centre as scheduled, suppliers told malaymail.com.

This is in line with what Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Facebook yesterday, that the flow of goods, including food supplies, were to carry on as per normal during Malaysia’s lockdown, which lasts until the end of the month.

Philippines: Benguet assures ample vegetable supply
The province of Benguet has assured that the production and transport of vegetables from the farms will continue, Governor Melchor Diclas said on Tuesday. He said they exempt the farmers from the strict home quarantine guidelines under the Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine order of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Diclas, however, encouraged other members of the family of the farmers and the whole community to stay home and will be allowed to go outside their homes except for necessities. He said there is no crowding of people on farms, which complies with the order on social distancing.

Aside from tending to the farms, farmers are also allowed to harvest their products, pack them for transport to the trading post in La Trinidad, where buyers and traders purchase in bulk that will be brought to the various markets in the country. Benguet produces 80 to 85 percent of highland vegetables that are brought as far north as Aparri and Batanes to Visayas and Mindanao, including Palawan island.

Qatar agri sector is extremely active
Qatar’s agriculture sector continues to be “extremely active” amid the novel coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outbreak, producing more fresh and organic vegetables and fruits, prominent Qatari agriculturist Nasser Ahmed al-Khalaf said.

“There is no effect of coronavirus on the production. At this moment, Qatar’s production is at its peak,” he told The Gulf Times.

Al-Khalaf expressed confidence that Qatar’s agricultural production will witness a substantial increase this year due to the growing number of commercial farms in the country despite the Covid-19 crisis.

He noted that a series of meetings have been held between public and private sectors aimed at further boosting the agriculture sector and self-sufficiency efforts of Qatar. “Whether through the Katara farmers forum, Qatar Chamber, food security committees or the Ministry of Municipality and Environment, all want to ensure the safety and continuity of farm production,” said al-Khalaf, who is also the managing director of Agrico. Agrico, a private Qatari agricultural development company established in 2011, produces organic vegetables and fruits year-round at its 120,000sq m farm near Al Khor, and aims to help Qatar achieve food security.

Besides vegetables such as cucumber, lettuce, egg-plant, zucchini, hot and sweet pepper, and tomatoes, the farm is now producing fruits such as melon, watermelon, papaya and banana, as well as other green leafy vegetables, among others, using hydroponics all year-long.

Coronavirus remains thorn in side of Kerala pineapple growers
The euphoria over a rising trend in pineapple prices has started waning, with the coronavirus dampening the prospects of growers on account of a subdued upcountry demand.

It is peak period in North India, especially after the winter season and setting in of summer, but the virus scare has brought down pineapple prices to a bare minimum. The rates are now hovering in the range of ₹20 a kg for A grade, GI-tagged Vazhakulam pineapple as against ₹30 per kg in January this year.

Baby John, president of the Pineapple Growers Association Keralam, told BusinessLine that there had been good price realisation till March 5, but prices started eroding, especially when APMC markets were about to close down as part of discouraging people from public gatherings. This has affected the fruit movement, which was down by 50 per cent from 1,000 tonnes per day, he said.

According to John, Delhi and Maharashtra are considered to be the prime markets for pineapple and the main season is expected to start from April, catering to the Ramadan demand. Delhi is a good market for special grade pineapple while Maharashtra is the largest market for other grades.

The virus outbreak across the country has shattered farmers’ expectations of good returns from the surging prices witnessed since the new year.

Indian mango exports wilt in state of Andhra Pradesh
The outbreak of coronavirus has begun to have an impact on mango exports in Andhra Pradesh. Mango exports to the Gulf, European countries, South Asian countries and USA have been stalled following cancellation of flights due to COVID-19 scare.

Speaking to TOI, commissioner of horticulture, Chiranjiv Choudhary, said "Andhra Pradesh exported over 1,500 tonnes of mangoes (Banginapalli, Rasalu and a few other varieties) in 2019. We had planned to export over 3,000 tonnes of mangoes this year. We are estimating that AP is likely to produce around 6 mln tonnes of mangoes this season. But exports depends on various factors and the coronavirus scare has not helped the industry at all. We will be able to get a clear picture of the impact of coronavirus in a couple of weeks."

San Francisco shoppers stock up on produce amid pandemic
Click here for a short news clip.

SeaIntelligence: Coronavirus still impacts container shipping
The containerized maritime industry may be considering developments similar to the 2008 financial crisis, SeaIntelligence told fullavantenews.com. The Copenhagen-based maritime consultancy estimates that a potential volume of TEUS 17 million will be lost in container transport, corresponding to 10% of world trade.

In the case of port terminals, a loss of about 80 million TEUs is projected in the amount of volume that will be left unmanaged, says Lars Jensen, CEO of the maritime intelligence firm.

The real underlying problem is the long-term impact of the pandemic in 2020 and possibly beyond, not only on consumer spending but also on the willingness of companies to order goods in the first place, as well as your ability to do so, as a possible financial liquidity problem is beginning to appear. There is also a realistic risk of bankruptcy.

On the positive side, there are two elements that help carriers. One is the collapse of the oil price, which acts as a short-term cash infusion for carriers who have fuel surcharges based on oil prices two months ago and who pay bargain prices today. The other is the discipline that carriers have demonstrated in navigating empty (blank) spaces and avoiding dumping of freight rates to fill ships.

South Africa’s Oranjezicht market suspended
The Oranjezicht City Farm and its Market has been closed to the public, however, people can pre-order boxes of fresh fruits and veggies. The city farm has implemented a box-purchase scheme to help the farmers and producers during this time of financial uncertainty. Customers can pre-order various boxes of fresh produce which will be available for drive-thru pick-ups outside the market, explains director Sheryl Ozinsky.

Ozinsky told capetalk.co.za the market has been forced to innovate as the livelihoods of farmers and traders are at risk amid the global Covid-19 pandemic. Once the order system is running effectively, Ozinsky says OZCF market customers will be able to order products from other market traders.

US truckers are the ‘rock stars’ in the wake of Coronavirus
Andrew Novakovic, agricultural economist at Cornell University, agrees with the many food industry experts and government officials who say there is plenty of food. “This isn’t a supply chain disruption,” Novakovic told Forbes. Though the U.S. food system is frequently criticized for being too big and too monolithic, its size and expediency, including crop surpluses, mean the U.S. has plenty of food available for the long haul.

However, Novakovic points to a number of weak spots in the food transportation system that could be aggravated by the increased demand for food. Transportation is the one thing that connects all stages of the supply chain, he says, from farm to food processing to warehouse to grocery store. That’s why any labor shortage in the food system, but especially a shortage of truck drivers, could pose a serious threat to the food supply chain if the high demand for groceries continues unabated.

Cain Adams at Trinity Logistics/Longboard Logistics in Meridian, ID, told onionbusiness.com about movement in general and freight rates this week as the Coronavirus grips the nation.

“With schools and restaurants closed, those supply chains are dead in the water. The produce is being pushed to retail. Stores are trying to restock as fast as they can. Potato sizing and supply is an issue. They can’t pack fast enough. Orders are keeping potato sheds steady.”

Cain added, “Rates are up on all lanes. Onions orders are steady out of the Northwest, and sheds who are heavy in retail contracts are swamped. Many of them are asking for teams only so they can replenish fast.” He continued, “Rates out of McAllen are higher, too, with onion prices going up pretty fast. Restaurants being closed will help get more carriers on the retail orders though. There are more loads than trucks, so some are shipping on dry vans just to get the product out at a decent price. Reefers are in high demand.”

“We are not seeing many trucks turning them off to run harder. We are still seeing 95 percent of trucks stick to the books. I think they just fear they will mess something up and get the fine. At receivers, we are seeing longer wait times to unload. This makes sense with all the other grocery items coming in. Trucks are getting taken care of, though.”

“I’d say hug a trucker, but we can’t afford to get any of them sick. They are looking like rock stars. We are so proud to work with those men and women. I can’t tell you how much many of them care about getting these loads to their destination. Truly, it is inspiring.”

Chile: Pinera declares 90-day state of catastrophe
Chilean President Sebastian Pinera on Wednesday declared a 90-day state of catastrophe as cases of the new coronavirus mounted in the nation, giving the government extraordinary powers to restrict freedom of movement and assure food supply and basic services.

A military official will oversee the 90-day measure, which is set to take effect Thursday morning. More restrictive actions would be implemented progressively, as dictated by the advance of the virus.

“This state (of catastrophe) is aimed at...preparing ourselves to confront what lies ahead,” Pinera said in a speech from the La Moneda presidential palace.

Pinera said there were 238 cases of coronavirus confirmed in Chile but no deaths. The country has closed schools, shut down its borders and limited public gatherings as the number of cases has multiplied. The order should also assure more security for hospitals, protect supply chains for medicines and allow the government to enforce quarantines and isolation measures.

The move is likely to stamp out any remaining protests over inequality after they were reignited in early March following several turbulent months of demonstrations and riots in late 2019.

Spanish fruit & veg suppliers stretching to maintain production
The Grocer wrote an article on the Spanish fruit & vegetable suppliers who are striving to maintain production as the country’s lockdown strains the capacity of its workforce.

Indian exports resume: 3,600 tonnes of onions shipped to Sri Lanka and West Asian countries
Onion traders in Nashik are upbeat on the resumption of exports and hope to ship at least 200,000 tonnes of the commodity by next month. Around 3,600 tonnes of onion has been shipped to Sri Lanka and West Asian countries as part of the first outbound consignment after the Union government lifted ban on the exports of the kitchen staple.

The federal government had banned onion exports on September 29 last year and imposed countrywide stock limits to control soaring prices of the commodity ahead of assembly elections in Maharashtra and Haryana. The ban was lifted with effect from March 15 after a notification was issued by Directorate General of Foreign Trade of the Department of Commerce.

Trinidad growers hit hard by COVID-19
In Trinidad, the closure of schools and restaurants is having a devastating ripple effect on farmers who are now struggling to find buyers for their produce.

At Rock Road, Penal, farmer Rakesh Manick said he had 450 heads of lettuce left and no one to buy. Manick said he was fearful about going to the Debe market to wholesale his produce because congregating could put him at risk for COVID-19.

He added that usually he provides 1,000 heads of lettuce to a single supplier who sells it to restaurants and supermarkets. However, most of the restaurants in South Trinidad have been forced to close because people are no longer dining out.

A source at the National Agricultural Marketing Development Company said they have received scores of phone calls from farmers asking for assistance in selling their crops. “We are documenting a list of all the farmers and their crops and we are trying to link them with potential buyers. We have had numerous calls. The problem is many people are not willing to come to the market to drop off their produce because of the risk of COVID-19,” the source added.


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