Australia’s fresh food supply chain is standing strong as the COVID-19 situation continues to evolve.
As growers focus on bringing in new season apples and pears, State and Federal Governments and industry are working to preserve the food supply chain.
The potential for labour shortages is a key focus, with discussions taking place on enabling overseas workers already in the country to extend their stay.
APAL has been talking to a number of growers about how they have adapted to the ongoing COVID-19 situation, with a common concern being future shortages of labour. It appears that while there does not seem to be a shortage of workers at present, there are concerns about how the efforts to contain the virus may impact future workforce numbers.
Positive talks between industry bodies and State and Federal Governments have centred around making visas for current workers more flexible. This could mean permitting Seasonal Worker Programme (SWP) participants to move more freely between approved employers, exempting Pacific Islands workers from quarantine requirements (in line with action taken in New Zealand) and providing incentives to get more Australians working in seasonal roles on farms (if necessary).
There were also concerns about the impact of the closure of state borders on the food supply chain. Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management David Littleproud today announced there won’t be any disruption to the growth or transportation of fresh fruit and vegetables due to its critical importance to the Australian economy.
“The commonwealth is guaranteeing food production and supply as we deal with the virus’s spread,” said David. “I am inconstant dialogue with farming groups, the States, supermarkets and my department to make sure there’s food on the table for all Australians.
“That means State-imposed border shutdowns will not affect agricultural supply chains. The trucks carrying food and produce will get through to the shops,” he added.
While more news on these issues will be available in the coming days, APAL would like to remind growers of the importance of maintaining hygiene and their role in preventing the spread of the virus. It is important that everyone look after their own health and that of their families, workers and their communities.
Experience with SARs and MERs is that people are not infected with these viruses through fresh produce and it is regarded as unlikely COVID-19 will be passed on through fresh produce. More information around the COVID-19 and fresh produce can be found at the Australian Research Centre for Food Safety in the Fresh Produce Industry website in this article by Dr Hayriye Bozkurt.