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

Corona-update: Asda to donate £5 million to food banks

In Idaho, potato prices jumped significantly during a recent five-day stretch, while freight carriers all over the world are struggling to deliver goods by land, sea or air and the Coronavirus seems to have increased demand for Turkish lemons. In many places, like in South Africa, retailers are now delivering fruit and vegetables and on the legislative side, US politicians want a pause on H-2A visas, sparking concern about agri labor shortages.

On a positive note, New Zealand’s fruit and vegetable intake seems to be increasing and in the UK, Asda will donate £5 million to food banks. This and many other facts in today’s Coronavirus update.

US retail sees boost to potato prices
Grocers in Idaho, the nation’s top potato-producing state have somehow had a hard time keeping goods in stock in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, with area tuber shortages becoming evident last week. Shoppers preparing to hunker down at home to avoid contracting the contagious disease have taken to buying foods that store well by the cartload.

“It is strange. I didn’t think I’d ever see a shortage, at least at the store level, of potatoes in Idaho,” said Travis Blacker, industry relations director with the Idaho Potato Commission.

Reports show consumer bag prices jumped significantly during a five-day stretch due to the coronavirus-related demand. On March 11, USDA Market News reported the price of five, 10-pound baled bags of fresh Russet Norkotahs shipped from the Twin Falls and Burley district at $5 to $6, mostly $5.50. That price had reached $6.50 to $7 as of March 16.

Potato prices were already strong due to a tight supply, caused by a lower yielding 2019 crop and heavy frost damage. Market News reported 50-pound cartons of restaurant-grade fresh Norkotahs were selling for $22 to $23 on March 16, compared with $8.50 to $10 on the same date a year ago.

In addition to experiencing stronger demand from retailers, Blacker said Idaho fresh potato packers have reported a significant spike in sales from customers who buy cartons directly from their sheds.

Supply chain problems move from China to US and others
Freight carriers are struggling to deliver goods by land, sea or air as the coronavirus pandemic forces Western governments to impose lockdowns, threatening supplies of vital products including medicines into the most affected areas, such as Italy.

While China’s steps to stop the spread of the virus are now allowing its economy slowly to come back online, supply chains are backing up in other parts of the world. Problems ranging from finding enough truck drivers to restrictions on seafarers and a lack of air freight are hitting the smooth flow of goods, freight logistics operators say. Stockpiling and panic buying by consumers are also adding to strains.

“Supply chain disruption has moved rapidly from east to west,” said Mohammed Esa, chief commercial officer, Europe, with global logistics group Agility.

Companies involved in the transport of goods say the impact is being felt hardest in air freight as more airlines shut down services, adding to difficulties with the transport of key goods such as medicines and perishable foods.

Goods from Europe are being re-routed through places including Mexico and Canada to the United States, companies say, but that adds time and also comes at a price.

India orders shutdown in Kashmir until March 31
In the region of Kashmir, authorities have ordered shutdown of all establishments except those providing essential services and commodities across Jammu and Kashmir from Sunday evening till March 31.

Chief Secretary BVR Subrahmanyam in a letter to all 20 deputy commissioners of Jammu and Kashmir said: “The shutdown will come into effect from 8 pm on Sunday till 6 pm on March 31.” He claimed the shutdown was necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19 pandemic and break the transmission chain of the virus.

Meanwhile, the latest move by the authorities may take a sizeable bite off the indebted apple industry in Kashmir. According to owners of cold storages based at Lasipora and Aglar in South Kashmir, 80 percent of the apple stock is still lying with them amid the lockdown imposed in the name of coronavirus. Many traders in media interviews said they were apprehensive about the stored fruit.

Coronavirus increased demand for Turkish lemons
The coronavirus epidemic has increased the demand for lemons. Citizens turned to the consumption of lemons on the advice of experts to 'consume vitamin C'. As the demand for lemons increased, an increase in prices was observed.

Mersin Durgen Producers Union (MERTUB) President Ahmet Dursen Şahin said that the consumption of lemons, led to more than doubling the price due to the high demand.

Şahin: “Lemon is now used as a source of healing. Lemon, which has been used in food for years, is now popular when it is started to be consumed for medicinal purposes. The demand for lemon has increased considerably. Half of previously produced lemons were consumed in the domestic market. we need to consume it because it increases resistance and has great health benefits.”

South Africa: Netflorist now delivers fruit and vegetables
From Monday onwards, flower and gift delivery service NetFlorist will deliver fruit and vegetables to consumers in Johannesburg North and Pretoria as people stay home due to Covid-19.

Retailers across South Africa, including Checkers, Pick n Pay and Woolworths, have recently stepped up their food delivery services.  NetFlorist has teamed up with foods wholesaler and distributor Fruitspot to deliver fresh produce to consumers within one day. The service is set to expand to include prepared meals in the near future, NetFlorist said. Consumers can find the new NetFlorist offering on its fresh produce website page.

NetFlorist managing director Ryan Bacher says the company started to investigate delivering fresh produce to consumers three years ago. Its warehouses and vehicles are already cooled for flowers, making it perfect for fresh produce. Health practices have also been improved to curb the spread of coronavirus, including regular sanitising, and non-contact deliveries.

US: Pause on H-2A visas sparks concern of agri labor shortage
Georgia farmers are bracing for a potential labor shortage as harvest season approaches after the federal government decided to limit foreign workers in an effort to prevent COVID-19 spread.

The state’s fruit and vegetable producers are highly dependent on workers through the H-2A guest worker program a federal program that brings migrant workers from neighboring countries seasonally to work in U.S. agriculture.

Citing domestic labor shortages, Georgia agriculture leaders have been pushing for a new updated program with more flexibility, but now with restrictions amid the global pandemic, even the current system is facing limitations.

Georgia is the nation’s highest user of the program. During fiscal year 2019, the Peach State surpassed all others, with 12% of the total workforce coming out of the H-2A  program, according to the federal Office of Foreign Labor Certification. Nationwide in fiscal year 2018, 242,000 seasonal foreign workers were approved for hire.

A “justified uproar” came from farmers across the country when word first came out that the visa program was going to be halted altogether, Georgia Department of Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black told CNHI: “It was 100% a direct emotional impact. For farmers, the overriding concern is: are they going to have enough workers and will they arrive on time.”

NZ fruit and vegetable intake set to increase
The consumption of fruit and vegetables is expected to rise as more people stay at home due to Covid-19. Research suggests a lack of time is a factor in New Zealander failing to consume their recommended daily intake.

Carmel Ireland, a project manager at 5+ A Day Charitable Trust, says recent research indicates that those with more time on their hands do consume more fresh produce: “Given many of us are in social isolation, and we are all very aware of building and maintaining immunity, we expect Kiwis to be eating more fresh produce.”

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

Recent Ministry of Health data shows only 53 percent of New Zealanders are consuming the recommended daily intake of vegetables and 51.5 percent are eating enough fruit. Eating the recommended amounts of fruit and vegetables, washing your hands frequently, and getting enough sleep each night are all key to keeping your body's immune defences at their optimum.

Asda donates £5 million to food banks
Asda has announced it will be donating £5 million to its partners FareShare and the Trussell Trust to help the country’s most vulnerable people through COVID-19.

The extensive package of measures will provide over 4 million meals to families in poverty impacted by Coronavirus as well as giving more than 3000 charities the ability to access free food over the next three months as they fight to tackle the impacts of Coronavirus in their communities.

The donation from the supermarket also will help the networks of the two charities as they experience a huge increase in demand over the coming months, as more vulnerable people turn to food banks for help through COVID-19.

Asda is also investing in the logistics and support services that will allow FareShare and the Trussell Trust to support families through the crisis, including funding for telephone, and online and food delivery systems for people unable to afford food, as well as supporting the recruitment of 20,000 volunteers to support food banks.

Canadian farms to decide how to isolate migrant workers
It will be up to Canadian farmers and provincial governments to determine how and where thousands of migrant farmworkers will be isolated when they are allowed through federal COVID-19 travel restrictions, says Liberal MP Vance Badawey.

"Until the Emergencies Act is enacted by the federal government, those are decisions that have to be made by the farmers," the Niagara Centre MP said in an interview. "Right now, the authority to (enforce isolation) falls to the regional health authorities in conjunction with the provinces."

Canadian farmers breathed a sigh of relief last week when Ottawa said the migrant farmworkers -who comprise an annual workforce of nearly 60,000 people- would be allowed into the country despite the borders being closed to international visitors as a measure to limit the spread of the deadly COVID-19 virus.

However, the federal government is requiring that those with a valid work visa, including those coming into Canada through the temporary worker's program, isolate themselves for 14 days upon arrival. Leaders in the agricultural industry have been scrambling to establish protocols for workers before the window to get this year's crop planted closes.

Australian fresh produce industry calls for guarantees
The Australian Organic and the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) is calling on government to ensure agriculture and the food supply chain are listed as ‘essential’ services amid the shutdown prompted by the spread of COVID-19.

NFF president Fiona Simson said the federation has been assured that agriculture and the food supply chain will not be interrupted, despite the closure of travel between some states but said the confirmation of agriculture as an essential service, by the states and the Commonwealth, would guarantee that measures to control the spread of COVID-19 does not affect food production and supply.

“The continued provision of quality fresh produce is paramount to safeguarding the wellbeing and health of the nation. Our state farming member organisations have been having similar conversations with their state governments,” NFF president Fiona Simson told

Australian Organic has been in weekly meetings with NFF and said it will continue to support the federation during the current crisis.

Queensland horticulture essential for Australia's wellbeing
As supply chains are stretching and supermarket shelves are sometimes empty, the Queensland horticulture industry is ready to answer the call. It is expected this winter, like many winters before it, that upwards of 90 per cent of vegetables in Australian supermarkets, like tomatoes, capsicums and many others, will be grown in Queensland.

Queensland is Australia's premier state for fruit, vegetable and nut production with its growers producing more than 120 types of fresh produce across 16 growing regions.

With the peak in production anticipated to coincide with a peak in COVID-19 cases, and with a direct link between the consumption of fruit and veg and improved immunity, it's clear what produce comes out of the Sunshine State will have an important role to play.

This will involve assuring business as usual conditions for food production and supply, including allowing the transport of farm inputs to farms, and then produce from farm to market across state borders without delays or obstruction. More than ever before, Australians should increase their daily intake of fruit, vegetables and nuts to help boost their immunity.

India’s Coimbatore district stares at vegetable shortage
Due to the Janata curfew on Sunday and reduced vehicular movements between the district and neigboring states, the inflow of vegetables has reduced by half in Coimbatore district's wholesale markets. If the situation continues, there would be shortage of vegetables leading to increase in prices, according to merchants.

The city depends on Karnataka for 60% of its vegetable needs. With the border between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu sealed for vehicular traffic, the number of trucks transporting vegetables from the neighbouring state has reduced by half.

Usually day there would be more than 300 trucks from Karnataka unloading vegetables in the market per day, but on Monday, the number was halved. "Tomatoes, shallots and green chillies are some of the important vegetables we get from there. On Monday, there was very low stock in the market. At the market, all vegetable prices had increased. If the situation continues, there will be a further increase," said one trader.

Though the state had announced that vehicles carrying vegetables, milk and other essentials can travel between the states, at places there were issues such as vehicles which had unloaded vegetables not being allowed to return.

Klang Valley Agritech purveyor offers on-demand fresh produce
Agritech start-up Cultiveat Sdn Bhd has extended its business to selling fresh and safe produce online to reduce food waste in light of the 14-day restricted movement order.

As businesses in the food and beverage industry scale back their operations, the company, which previously only supplied vegetables to restaurants and cafés, has improvised on its business model to serve end-consumers directly. The vegetables, which are grown using technology-assisted mini-farming techniques, are grown without the use of pesticides and in weather-regulated indoor farms.

“We were already planning to sell the vegetables directly to consumers, but we decided to accelerate our plans following the reduced demand from our F&B partners, resulting in excess supply,” says Charmaine Kon, head of marketing at Cultiveat.

As consumers will not be able to buy from their farm in Kapar directly, the vegetables, consisting of various types of lettuce, are sold online.

Shutdown won't delay Australian farmers, food and freight
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk's decision to close the borders from midnight Wednesday, the government has moved to assure Queenslanders the movement of agricultural goods will continue.

Agriculture Minister Mark Furner said there was no shortage of food, and transportation of produce will not be impacted by localised lockdowns or heightened interstate border restrictions. "Our ability to feed Queenslanders and other Australians and also export food to other nations is a massive advantage for our state. These are essential businesses and will continue to be supported as we work together as Queenslanders to overcome this."

In 2017-18 the gross value of agriculture and the food supply chain in Queensland was estimated to be $25.7 billion. It accounted for about 7 per cent of the state's economic output. Furner said the agriculture and food supply chain employs more than 330,000 people, which is 13 per cent of all working Queenslanders.

The Queensland Government is working with industry to ensure supplies of perishables including meat, dairy, bread, fruit, vegetables, eggs and seafood are readily available.

Indian ministry asks provinces to exempt supplies of agri inputs
In the wake the lockdown announced by the Indian provincial governments, the Ministry of National Food Security & Research (MNFS&R) has asked all the four provinces to exempt the outlets/supply chain of agricultural inputs to ensure timely availability of agricultural inputs.

A letter issued by the MNFS&R written to the chief secretaries of the provinces said it is requested that outlets/supply chain of agricultural inputs may be exempted during the lockdown to confirm timely availability of agricultural inputs and their application in the field.

“This will ensure the food security in the country and to meet estimated production target of all crops," the letter added. According to the sources, the Directorate General Agriculture (Extension &AR) Punjab had also approached the Secretary Agriculture Punjab on this subject requesting that the home department may be asked for inclusion of seed, pesticides and fertilizer shops in special category with food, health and other essential services to allow these working.

Why stockpiling is not as crazy or selfish as it seems
Recently, many shoppers were adding a few extra purchases of products they normally buy and adding a few purchases of categories that they don’t often buy into their trolley or basket and were doing this more frequently, i.e. also shopping more regularly than normal, across these first few weeks. An article on is trying to argue that this behaviour is not as awkward as it seems.

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