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

Corona-update: Backpackers are staying in Tasmania to ride out pandemic

The European Union has decided it will ease up on the rules when it comes to import from and export to India. The country has been hit by heavy price increases, due to transport not functioning during the lockdown. Meanwhile the question has been asked whether the United Kingdom will see a food shortage when under complete lockdown.

PMA A-NZ reaffirms Australian fruit and vegetables are safe
There is an increasing amount of misinformation being circulated in the media and social media regarding the role of food in the potential transmission of the COVID-19 virus. The misinformation can be detrimental and misleading to both consumers and the fresh produce industry. PMA A-NZ reinforces the message from the World Health Organisation that fresh produce is safe and consumption of fruit and vegetables is encouraged during this time.

Consumers can be reassured that food authorities globally are providing advice that food is not a vehicle for the transmission of this virus. There is no evidence that illness caused by respiratory viruses can be transmitted via contaminated food at this stage.

“Aside from avoiding person-to-person transmission and contact with ill individuals, keeping yourself safe involves practicing good hygiene and promoting physical distancing and self-isolation”, says Deon Mahoney, Head of Food Safety at PMA A-NZ.

“In the home, wash your hands correctly before preparing food and also before eating. Wash your fresh fruit and vegetables thoroughly, but don’t use soap or detergents – they are not formulated for food.”

Remember, fresh fruit and vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet and promote good nutrition and physical wellbeing. Healthy eating is crucial at this time.

PMA A-NZ would like to remind consumers to not be deceived by harmful misinformation and to always seek reputable sources of advice. It is recommended to not overestimate the risk and don’t follow risky advice about food in an attempt to mitigate an already very small risk.

Click here to read the press release.

Dutch farmers say Germans are poaching seasonal farm workers
Dutch farmers are afraid of losing seasonal labourers to Germany and Belgium because of relaxed tax rules in those countries and tough legislation in the Netherlands. Allegedly, the German government is trying to soften the impact of the corona crisis on agriculture by allowing seasonal labourers already in the country to remain there for longer without paying premiums. Belgium too is relaxing its rules. Dutch farmers, who are preparing to harvest strawberries and asparagus, are worried Germany will lure much-needed workers away now that it has closed its borders and new seasonal labourers can no longer come into the country. Moreover, workers who want to travel to the Netherlands via Germany are being stopped at the border. ‘Farmers are panicking. They could be hit hard,’ a spokesman for farmers association LTO said. ‘The food production chain must not be interrupted at the border, whether it is the flow of goods or people. We are in almost daily consultation about this with the cabinet.’

Free potato market in Belgium collapses due to COVID-19
Due to the corona virus, the free potato market has completely collapsed. The PCA/Fiwap and the Belgapom price quotation has been suspended because of a lack of transactions on the free market of potatoes. According to Romain Cools of Belgapom, the federation of the Belgian potato processing and trade, in the meantime panic broke out among potato growers.

Romain Cools of Belgapom: “If the free market does recover, it will depend on how the disease evolves. The outlook is not that great. There is not just one potato market. Different potato markets do exist, with their own laws and features. Today we experienced a significant increase in demand of fresh potatoes. Some speak of an increase of 50 to 100 percent. We know that several companies work during the weekend and that even office personnel is being used within the production chain.”

Firstly, Romain Cools wishes to give the necessary nuances. The first one is the fresh market. From questioning his members, Belgapom concludes that some companies which focus on the fresh market, do experience incredible busy times.

This seems good news, but the problem is that there are specific varieties which are sold for the fresh market and these do not include the varieties Fontane or Bintje, which are the two most produced types in our country. It mostly concerns contracted potatoes, the free market plays a minor role here, he explains. Click here to read the full article.

Backpackers are staying in Tasmania to ride out pandemic
With borders closing and quarantine measures are put in place around the world, some backpackers are choosing to stay in Tasmania to wait out the COVID-19 pandemic.

And while they have had no trouble finding work, there are significantly fewer foreign languages being spoken on farms that are usually populated by travellers during picking season. Spreyton orchard RW Squibb and Sons managing director Brett Squib said that for the first time in recent history, the majority of his workforce is made up of locals.

"Normally we sort of have 75 per cent backpackers and 25 per cent locals but this year it is completely the opposite," he said. "We've had about 45 pickers and I think we had eight backpackers [...] the rest have been locals. We had a lot of backpackers around early but since all the virus things started to happen we are not seeing [backpackers] coming in looking for work."

Instead, the workforce is made up of people looking for work after losing their jobs due to the pandemic. "We've got guys who have turned up on their own who have been laid off because of business shutdowns, we've got young guys for whom this is their first-ever job, we've got some mothers who drop their kids off at school and come out picking and we've got some 17-year-old girls out there, all working together."

Some of his workforce is also made up of backpackers who have chosen to stay in Tasmania because they feel safe here. Backpackers already in Tasmania and working in the agricultural sector have been deemed essential workers, along with all fisheries, food production and supply jobs.

US: Yakima fruit company hires teens during school shutdown
A Yakima-based fruit company is doing all it can to protect its approximately 350 packing warehouse workers from COVID-19, while helping their family members in the process.

“We are encouraging employees that are in that at-risk area to actually not work, which is a hard thing to do for a lot of our employees,” said Doug Gibson, Chief Operating Officer at Mount Adams Fruit.

To help out, Mount Adams Fruit is hiring its employees’ teenage children to come work for them, with some temporarily taking over their family member’s job and others coming to work alongside their parents.

“Our hope is if grandma, who is 60, 70 years old, is working as a sorter, she’s encouraged to not work,” Gibson said. “Then that job is available to someone else in her family that can bring that money home.”

The company has opened up positions to anyone 16 years old or older who is related to a current employee through a special work permit for minors; about 32 have been hired on so far, Gibson said.  They’re working in temporarily open positions or in new positions geared toward adding more food and employee safety checks.

EU relaxes imports of fruit & vegetables from India
The European Union has eased rules for import of fresh fruit and vegetables from India. It has done away with the requirement for a physical certificate assuring food safety, and animal and plant health standards.

Now, an online certification will be enough. The EU has strict phytosanitary requirements to prevent the entry and spread of organisms harmful to plants and plant products. This means specified plants or plant products, including fruit and vegetables and wood products, must be accompanied by a plant health certificate issued by the relevant authorities of the exporting country.

“The EU has begun accepting online certificates for the products they are already importing from us. Earlier they wanted a physical copy,” said an official aware of the development, adding that the move will especially benefit grape exports.

The relaxation comes in the wake of global trade disruptions due to the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. This is a reciprocal measure for India continuing to import from the EU. India exported grapes worth $334.79 million in 2018-19, with The Netherlands, Russia, UK, Bangladesh and Germany being the major destinations.

‘Food shortage in UK would be a serious crisis under lockdown’
Food shortage in the UK would be a serious crisis under a coronavirus lockdown . Therefore it is imperative that plans are in place to ensure the supply chain remains open, functional and optimised, according to Andre Laperriere, executive director at Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN)

“There is enough supply for all, as long as everyone stays calm and stops hoarding. We may tend to waste more food if we hoard more than required. Hoarding would also artificially increase food prices because of the on the pressure on supply chain.”

The impact of a nationwide lockdown on agricultural output has already emerged out of China, where farmers are facing a daunting planting season as they are dealing with shortages in labour, seeds and fertilisers. A survey of village officials in 1,636 counties by the Qufu Normal University in China found that 60 per cent of the respondents were pessimistic or very pessimistic about the planting season. The Chinese agricultural and farming industry has collapsed under the lockdown, freezing labour workforce and supplies.​

Fyffes claims to have sufficient fresh fruit stocks
Fyffes chairman David McCann said his company has "sufficient" fresh fruit stocks on hand - and in the pipeline - to ensure that Irish consumers can continue to enjoy a healthy diet at this time.
McCann also praised the Government, its team of medical advisors and health service workers for the reassurance they have given to people and the manner in which the Covid-19 issue is being managed here. He made his comments as Taoiseach Leo Varadkar visited Fyffes' premises in Swords in North County Dublin today.

The Taoiseach and Business Minister Heather Humphreys viewed the company's banana ripening facility and discussed its fresh fruit supply lines with company officials in the face of the current Covid-19 situation.

Fyffes is the biggest importer of bananas and the leading marketer of organic & fairtrade bananas to Europe.  It is also one of the largest global marketer for pineapples and winter season melons.

Indian government agency Horticorp to procure vegetables
Steps are being taken to procure vegetables and fruits from farmers in the state to ensure adequate availability during the lockdown period, Agriculture Minister V.S. Sunil Kumar has said. The vegetables and fruits will be sold through 100 outlets of the Kerala State Horticultural Products Development Corporation (Horticorp) and 200 franchises.

The vegetables procured in this manner will also be supplied to community kitchens opened across the State and institutions under the Social Justice Department, the Minister said.

As part of the initiative, the Horticorp has been directed to procure 20 tonnes of pineapple from Vazhakkulam and five tonnes of mango from Muthalamada. The government agency will also procure Nendran banana from farmers in Wayanad. The Agriculture Department is taking steps to supply vegetables and fruits to the public through online platforms.

Turkey: Veg exports rise as virus drives up European demand
Turkey’s fresh fruit and vegetable exports surged in the first quarter despite global logistical constraints due to the coronavirus pandemic, while tomato exports grew by more than 12% from last year, industry data has shown.

The exports of Turkish tomatoes rose 12.26% between Jan. 1 to March 25, compared to the same period last year, reaching $119.8 million from $106.7 million, Anadolu Agency (AA) reported Sunday, citing latest Turkey Exporters Assembly (TİM) figures. Exports of fresh peppers, on the other hand, surged by 13.5% in the same period from $42.1% million to $47.8 million, data showed.

The majority of tomato exports went to Ukraine, Russia and Romania in the first quarter, while Germany was the leading importer of Turkish peppers, followed by Romania and Russia.

Hakkı Bahar, chairman of the Western Mediterranean Exporters Association, said the fresh vegetable and fruit sector experienced an upward trend despite the coronavirus-induced slowdown, being felt across almost all industries.

Excess supply derails Mumbai vegetable market
Navi Mumbai civic chief Annasaheb Misal, has written to the commissioner of the Konkan Division requesting the creation of a checkpost at the city's six entry points, to restrict the entry of vehicles carrying vegetables. He has recommended that only 200 trucks be allowed to enter the city, to ensure crowd control. The six entry points to Navi Mumbai are Digha, Shil Phata, Uran, Vashi & Airoli.

There will be no fresh arrival of vegetables at the Mumbai Agriculture Produce Market Committee (APMC) in Vashi until vegetables in inventory get finished, traders decided after a chaotic situation in the market on the second consecutive days due to excessive supply. The traders will hold a meeting next week to decide whether to continue the market operation or close till April 14.

On the second consecutive day, the wholesale market received a huge supply of vegetables. In fact, on Saturday, more than 1000 trucks loaded with vegetables arrived which is a record in the last decade, claimed traders at APMC. Normally, on a good day, the APMC receives 600 to 650 trucks of vegetables. A trader said that if there are five persons for each truck, it will mean 50,000 people in the market and this crowd is difficult to handle.

Excessive supply resulted in complete chaos in the market and at one point, it became difficult for traders as well as administration to control the rush. A long queue of trucks formed along the road outside the market in Vashi. Around 250 traders held a meeting on Saturday afternoon and decided to stop fresh arrivals.

Vegetable prices in parts of India jump 40% due to lockdown hitting transport sector
Vegetables in retail markets of major cities have become costlier by 30-40 per cent in the last one week due to a sharp increase in their transportation cost amid fears of supply disruptions amid the the 21-day lockdown imposed across the country to check the growing spread of coronavirus the (Covid-19).

In Kolkata on Saturday, the lady finger was available at Rs 40 a kg as compared to Rs 30 a kg about a week ago. In Mumbai, cabbage and cauliflower were available at Rs 80 a kg and Rs 120 a kg, respectively, as against Rs 60 and Rs 80 a kg late last week. While the prices of tomatoes and potatoes in Delhi's retail markets jumped 25 per cent in one week, in Mumbai the price of tomato rose by 70 per cent in the same period.

With the entire world struggling to cope with Covid-19 and India being no exception, rising vegetable prices would impact consumers' kitchen budget during the ongoing lockdown period. Retailers, however, blame the sharp rise in vegetable prices on a steep increase in transportation costs.

Philippines: Vegetable shipments from La Trinidad suspended
Fresh vegetables from La Trinidad would not be shipped to Metro Manila and other Luzon markets until Tuesday (March 31) after local officials placed the entire town on extreme enhanced community quarantine.

Mayor Romeo Salda on Saturday froze all activities except the skeletal work force of the local government and health and emergency workers, to disinfect the town and to facilitate the tracing of people who may have interacted with a 6-year old girl and a 34-year old woman who have been infected with the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

Benguet supplies over 80 percent of the country’s highland vegetable requirements such as carrots, cabbage, cauliflower, beans and lettuce, which are mainly traded and packed in trading posts in La Trinidad. The Benguet Agri-Pinoy Trading Center will continue to operate but the La Trinidad Vegetable Trading Post (LTVTP) has been closed.

Pakistan fruit exporters thankful for announcement of much-needed relief
Ahmad Jawad, a senior member of Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce (FPCCI) has appreciated prudence on part of Prime Minister Imran Khan to help combat COVID-19 induced economic slowdown in the country.

On Friday, the Secretary General (Federal) of the FPCCI's Businessmen Panel, said the decision to release tax refunds and deferment of interest payment to bolster export sector was direly needed. "PM and his team of economic managers are definitely alive to the situation and fully conscious that our economy too would be gravely affected under current situation," he said.

Reiterating that a Rs.1000 billion relief package for different sectors of the national economy was a timely decision, Ahmad Jawad said tax refunds of around Rs.100 billion to the exporters can be supplemented by urgent measures to put on hold dollar fluctuations.

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