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

Corona-update: Uk farming firms in fear as workforce is in peril

While UK producers of summer fruits are worried that the current crisis could prevent produce getting from farms to the shops this picking season and small upstate New York farms are struggling, the New Zealand government is looking at letting thousands of migrant workers stay in New Zealand longer to ease their plight in the wake of unprecedented border closures and the Mumbai APMC will shut its markets every Thursday until end of the month

All this and more is featured in our Corona virus update article. And for the history buffs: don’t forget to check out the visualised history of pandemics. It’s worth a look.


Kent: Fears for farming firms as workforce is hit by Covid-19
UK producers of summer fruits are warning the coronavirus crisis could prevent produce getting from farms to the shops this picking season. The fruit industry in Kent and further afield relies heavily on the availability of seasonal, often migrant labour to bring in the soft fruit harvest in the spring and early summer, but with borders closing across the continent there could be difficulty in sourcing the workers needed.

Effects of the coronavirus outbreak are already being felt by the agricultural sector in the county, with one Maidstone-based fruit packing centre issuing an appeal for temporary staff to help it meet demand as more workers are forced to self-isolate.

Now the chairman of trade body British Summer Fruits, Nick Marston, has issued a broader appeal for British workers to come forward and fill gaps in the labour force ahead of the picking season. “We are now very concerned about securing enough workers to help harvest our vital crops and get fresh fruit and vegetables to the public. To help, in the next few days the berry industry will be mounting a large-scale recruitment campaign to encourage people who are in the UK and looking for work because of the current economic impact of the coronavirus to come and work on our farms.”

Stephen Taylor, managing director of Winterwood Farms, a fruit business based in East Sutton but with farms around the world, told kentonline.co.uk that the industry faced an unprecedented challenge as the Covid-19 virus continued to spread.

Maersk releases statement on COVID-19
The CEO of logistics company Maersk, Vincent Clerc, has released a statement regarding the coronavirus. He stated Maersk would remain committed to the industry:

"The gravity of the COVID-19 crisis, its pace and level of disruption to our lives and respective businesses is truly humbling. At Maersk, we also understand that we have a large responsibility, both for our people and for our partners. You have trusted us to care for a large part of your supply chain, and I wanted to reassure you that we are as committed today, as before to enable your business."

To read the full statement, please click here.

Visualizing the history of pandemics
For those who are interested in history, make sure to look at the visual representation of the effects of infectious diseases throughout time on visualcapitalist.com.

Even in this modern era, outbreaks are nearly constant, though not every outbreak reaches pandemic level as the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) has. This visualization outlines some of history’s most deadly pandemics, from the Antonine Plague to the current COVID-19 event.

Small upstate New York farms struggle as restaurants shut down
At Norwich Meadows Farm in upstate New York, Zaid Kurdieh and his wife Haifa grow varieties of vegetables coveted by New York City chefs. If this were a normal week, diners would be enjoying their produce at restaurants like Blue Hill, ABC Kitchen, and Gramercy Tavern. Due to the coronavirus outbreak, however those restaurants are closed indefinitely  This creates a dire situation for them and others like them. But it's not just restaurant owners and workers who stand to suffer in the wake of the virus.

While it’s still unclear how all farmers will be economically impacted by the coronavirus, the situation is already affecting small-scale producers who sell into local markets.

Australian borders closed, farmers worry about harvesting
Australian farmers are worrying about who will harvest crops amid a ban on foreigners entering the country. The agricultural sector is working to forecast how many people it will need to pick crops and take on other jobs once the foreign workers it relies on are blocked by a border closure from Friday night.

“We will get all of our crops harvested one way or another,” Richard Shannon of horticultural body Growcom stated on Friday. Agriculture, forestry and fisheries employees make up 2.5 per cent of Australia’s workforce. But seasonal workers from Pacific nations are also needed for fruit and vegetable picking.

The countries they call home had already announced they’d be stopping their citizens from leaving amid the coronavirus pandemic, before Australia said it would be closing its borders to foreigners.

The federal government says it is close to announcing visa extensions for seasonal workers and backpackers already here, so they can keep working. Some within the farming industry believe the visa system is too complicated and should be simplified.

New Zealand considers changes to migrant workers rules
The NZ government is looking at letting thousands of migrant workers stay in New Zealand longer to ease their plight in the wake of unprecedented border closures. An announcement is likely to come next week as officials look at how many foreign workers this may affect.

This would include those on the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) Scheme and those on temporary lower-wage visas who would normally have to leave New Zealand for a year after having worked here for three years.

Many of the thousands of RSE workers - just under half of the maximum 14,400 workers for the 2019/20 season had arrived by the end of January - are from the Pacific and their families' livelihoods depend on work in New Zealand.

HortGro increases efforts to keep supply ongoing
Against the background of the COVID-19 outbreak across the world and also in South Africa, the fresh fruit industry has increased efforts to ensure an ongoing supply of safe, quality fruit for local and export markets.

Fruit industry bodies expect at-home consumption to increase as the outbreak develops. Consumers need to maintain a healthy, balanced diet with access to fresh fruit, and therefore Hortgro, the deciduous fruit industry body, is doing all that it can to make sure that the fruit value chain continues, as normal.

Earlier Jacques du Preez, Hortgro’s General Manager for Trade and Markets, indicated that the apple harvest looked especially good this year and was hoping that the pandemic will not influence exports or the markets. Indications in Europe have been that due to the pandemic the demand for fresh fruit and vegetable have increased.

For the full HortGro statement, please click here.

APMC Mumbai to shut markets every Thursday until end of the month
The secretary of the Navi Mumbai APMC yard has decided to shut the fruits and vegetable markets every Thursday through March 31. This is for sterilisation of the two markets following the outbreak of Covid 19 in Maharashtra; it will not apply to the spices, food grains and onion markets, AK Chavan, secretary, Mumbai APMC, told ET.

“The fruit and vegetable markets are shut on Sunday and we have decided to keep it shut on Thursday as well for disinfecting it to secure protection for all against Covid 19," Chavan told economictimes.indiatimes.com.

He added that the closure would apply only to fruits and vegetables markets and that it would not result in any supply shortage as the stockists would pile enough inventory on the previous days to serve Mumbai. Around 500-700 trucks of vegetables and fruits arrive daily at yard, which is spread over 175 acres.

Sanjay Pansare , director of the fruits market at APMC , said that the closure could be extended until mid of April if the situation warranted.

New Zealand: Fruit & vegetable consumption expected to rise
Fresh fruit and vegetable consumption is expected to rise as more people stay at home due to COVID-19, as recent research suggests that lack of time was a factor in Kiwis falling to consume their recommended daily intake.

5+ A Day Charitable Trust Project Manager Carmel Ireland says recent research indicates that those with more time on their hands do consume more fresh produce.

A new nationwide survey of 1000 people about the breakfast habits of Kiwis in regard to the consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables suggested that those aged 60+ who regularly eat breakfast on weekdays are much more likely to consume fresh fruit and vegetables at that time compared to their younger counterparts.

“This suggests to us that time is a big factor in Kiwis consuming fruit and vegetables, as many younger people rush out the door to work or school. People are very focused on buying essentials and dried goods right now as the threat of COVID-19 draws closer and that is understandable. But fresh produce is one of the most valuable items you can place in your shopping basket and will go a long way towards ensuring you remain as healthy as possible,” Ireland told scoop.co.nz.

Richard Liu leads the charge of China’s E-Commerce giants
In a recent earnings call for Q4, JD.com CEO Richard Liu recapped his company’s coronavirus aid efforts since the outbreak occurred just before the Chinese New Year. With the recent reports of price gouging on Amazon of supplies such as hand sanitizers and masks, as well the appearance of a number of faulty products claiming to provide protection against the coronavirus, U.S. tech companies should consider following the examples of their Chinese counterparts.

China’s top e-commerce companies are no strangers to dealing with outbreaks. Both Richard Liu’s JD and Jack Ma’s Alibaba were fledgling businesses when the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak occurred in 2003, causing China to go on a lockdown similar to the one it is experiencing now.

'Essential Australian farmers' markets free of crowd bans
Farmers' markets around Australia have official clearance to go ahead this weekend - and are preparing for a potential onslaught after unprecedented panic buying and hoarding at supermarkets.

The term "farmers' markets" was not specified, leading to confusion and concern. But the Federal Health Department has confirmed to ABC that farmers' markets are an essential service.

"Farmers' markets are currently not banned in the same way as other outdoor gatherings with more than 500 people, as they are providing people with access to a range of food in the same way as a supermarket," the spokesperson said. "People visiting markets should use common sense when practising social distancing and maintaining social interactions, avoiding unnecessary contact and moving 1.5 metres from other people where possible."

Long lines at checkpoints causing bananas to spoil
The Filippino banana industry stakeholders are requesting the government to prioritize the checking and passage of their container vans carrying bananas at the entry points to ensure the marketability of the produce.

The stringent implementation of the lockdowns in the region to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) has caused the build-up of people and vehicles in various checkpoints entering the city.

Filipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA) president Alberto Bacani said that while the export market for bananas had gradually become favorable, the current government measures to curb the virus could also affect the quality of bananas.

Bacani said the demand for bananas, especially in China, has continued to increase because the borders with Vietnam, Laos, and Myanmar are closed so their bananas cannot enter China, adding that the local Chinese bananas grown in the south of China are having difficulty getting to Shanghai and Dalian markets due to logistical issues and restricted inter-province movement of goods.

Banned fruit from China could close Indian wholesale markets
As the threat of a coronavirus outbreak looms large, traders in some wholesale fruit and vegetable markets are considering temporary closure due to the presence of banned fruits smuggled from virus-hit China.

Traders in wholesale markets at Kolkata and Patna are contemplating the move even other markets across India continue to register a decline in daily auction/sale of vegetables and fruits, and a dip in export of early rabi crops since last week.

In Kolkata’s Mecchua fruit market, traders are contemplating closure of the mandi for at least 15 days from the end of this week.

“Wholesale fruit sellers fear a coronavirus outbreak in Kolkata due to the presence of large quantity of banned Fuji apple from China in the market,” Mukesh Sonkar, a wholesale fruit vendor from Mechhua, told ThePrint.

India had banned the import of Chinese Fuji apples in 2017 over presence of harmful microorganisms. However, the Chinese variety still gets smuggled into India through states that have porous borders.

Tatarstan truckers stuck on border with Georgia
The coronavirus pandemic is forcing countries to close their borders and suspend sea, rail, bus and air services. In most cases, the ban on movement does not apply to cargo transportation, but this week hundreds of Russian truckers still have had problems with the pass regime on the territory of Europe.

Realnoe Vremya contacted representatives of transport companies and found out what the real scale of the “disaster” is and whether to expect problems with deliveries due to restrictions and food hype, arranged by Russians in stores against common sense, huge stocks of goods in warehouses and calls not to give in to panic.

Kaliningrad truckers have also faced the problem of leaving Italy. This time because of the closure of borders by Hungary. At the same time, there is still a way to escape — no one forbids you to leave Italy, for example, through Austria.

No disruption in vegetable supply India               
The supply of fruit and vegetables will continue normally while markets will only briefly halt operations for fumigation to combat the Coronavirus, traders, cooperatives and dairies said in response to widespread fears of disruption.

Traders said that vegetable vendors who were telling customers that supplies would stop were doing so unscrupulously, only increase prices and sales. Sales of grocery, dairy products and fruits had increased in recent weeks as consumers stocked up to guard against any disruption, they said.

Fruit and vegetable mandis are open and procurement by both small vendors and big retailers has increased, said Metharam Kriplani, president of Delhi’s Azadpur Chamber of Fruits and Vegetables Association.

British truckers plead for bailout as trade is constricted
Britain’s truckers have warned the government they will go bust and struggle to supply supermarkets and industry if they are not given financial support, as the spread of coronavirus constricts trade.

Britain’s Road Haulage Association told the government its businesses need immediate cash-flow injections, deferment of taxes and environmental charges, and a holiday from the payments they owe truck-leasing companies and banks.

While some truckers have been racing in recent weeks to keep supermarkets and hospitals fully stocked, others have been parked up after the events and conferences they support were cancelled. The arrival of goods on containers from China has also slowed after the outbreak emerged there, and trade from Europe is likely to be hampered by the closure of borders.

More than 400,000 lorries operate in Britain, either driving from Europe or receiving goods at the major ports like Dover to deliver them around the country for food retailers, manufacturers and “just in time” factories that need thousands of parts a day.

FoodDrinkEurope, Copa and Cogeca and CELCAA: Ensuring food security is our primary objective
FoodDrinkEurope, Copa and Cogeca and CELCAA have issued the following statement: “Europe’s food supply chain will work closely together to ensure everybody in Europe continues to have access to safe, quality and affordable food and drink products during the Coronavirus pandemic.”

“In these difficult times, we are committed to helping our communities, using our collective resources, ingenuity and the dedication of our workforce. Together we emphasise the importance of a well-functioning food supply chain to help in the fight against Covid-19 and to guarantee food security for our fellow citizens.”

“Human health is our number one concern. Our members have instructed their workforces to follow appropriate measures by adhering to official advice from their relevant authorities to protect themselves and others from Coronavirus. Following the important and necessary emergency measures taken by EU Member States, our members are reporting increasing difficulties in their business operations. Delays and disruption at country borders have been observed for the delivery of certain agricultural and manufactured products, as well as packaging materials. There is also concern over the movement of workers, notably due to certain border closures and travel restrictions, as well as potential labour shortages as staff follow national movement restrictions to mitigate the crisis.”

Coronavirus not slowing audits of California’s leafy greens
The need to keep social distances is not keeping state government auditors from the lettuce fields, according to the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (LGMA).  It reports that the safety measures for leafy greens are fully in place during the rapidly changing COVID-19 situation.

“First and foremost, we want to assure people that LGMA audits conducted by state government personnel are continuing as usual,” Scott Horsfall, CEO of the Califorrnia LGMA, told foodsafetynews.com.

More than 90 percent of the leafy greens consumed in the U.S. are produced under the LGMA food safety program. On average each member company of the LGMA is audited by the government five times per year to verify food safety practices are being followed on leafy greens farms.

Rail Freight Group needs staff classified as key workers
With every facet of the logistics industry straining their sinews to ensure business as usual to maintain the integrity of the supply chain, the Rail Freight Group (RFG) has written to confirm that part of the industry is ready and willing to step up, but that its importance needs to be officially recognised.

To date, with some services adversely affected by the slowdown in global freight, others are seeing increased demand for domestic distribution. The RFG says its members are continuing to work as hard as they can to ensure delivery of vital supplies for supermarkets and retailers, manufacturers and business, and to support communities across the UK.

As the virus situation progresses the rail freight sector will do all it can to step up and provide additional services and capacity, and the RFG has identified a number of measures which it believes are urgently needed to ensure continued operations.

UK: Supermarkets to join forces to feed the nation
The British government is temporarily relaxing elements of competition law as part of a package of measures to allow supermarkets to work together to feed the nation. The move allows retailers to share data with each other on stock levels, cooperate to keep shops open, or share distribution depots and delivery vans. It would also allow retailers to pool staff with one another to help meet demand.

The Environment Secretary George Eustice confirmed elements of the law would be temporarily waived in a meeting this afternoon with chief executives from the UK’s leading supermarkets and food industry representatives.

The government has also temporarily relaxed rules around drivers’ hours, so retailers can deliver more food to stores, and is waiving the 5p plastic bag charge for online purchases to speed up deliveries. The support for supermarkets comes as the government and retailers continue to urge people to shop considerately and look out for their friends, family and neighbours.

Queensland slams door on cargo ships
Maritime Safety Queensland (MSQ) on 18 March banned all commercial ships from entering ports in Queensland if the ship, or any person onboard, has been in any country outside of Australia within the last 14-days. Shipping Australia understands that other port authorities are considering similar measures and strongly urges against such action. Any person who contravenes MSQ’s direction commits a criminal offence.

The MSQ Direction may hinder the ability of everyday Queenslanders to buy goods and it also hinders the ability of ships to take new crew onboard.

The Prime Minister’s direction does not prohibit ships from entering port on arrival. Australian Government policy, as confirmed by the Australian Border Force is that ships may enter port on arrival but the crew may not go on shore leave until 14 days have passed since the ship last called at an overseas port.

Shipping Australia’s Chief Executive Officer, Rod Nairn, told shippingaustralia.com.au: “The MSQ policy is reckless and indefensible, cargo ship crews are probably the lowest risk sector in the world with not one cargo ship crew member yet being confirmed as having COVID-19”.

First effects of crisis felt by German farmers
The harvest of white asparagus –the ubiquitous and cherished fixture on springtime menus in Germany- is providing a first test of the fallout from the coronavirus crisis on a farming sector that relies heavily on migrant workers.

Last year, German farmers employed nearly 300,000 seasonal workers in all, many from eastern Europe and willing to do heavy manual labour for prosperous Germany’s minimum wage, currently 9.35 euros (10.25 US dollars) per hour.

But as more and more European Union countries have restricted or stopped crossings of their usually near-invisible borders in a bewildering cascade of abrupt decisions, German growers are left wondering how they will bring in their crops this year.  Restrictions imposed by Austria and Hungary have complicated efforts to bring in workers from Romania, a major source of farm labour. 

According to wearecentralpa.com, Germany’s agriculture minister, Julia Kloeckner, this week acknowledged an urgent need to address the challenge of harvesting 23,000 hectares (56,800 acres) of asparagus fields across Germany.


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