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

Corona-update: French supermarkets heed the call for 'economic patriotism'

Several weeks into this unfortunate COVID-19 situation, new developments still arise. There are the French supermarkets, heeding the call for what Le Maire termed "economic patriotism". In Germany, in places, the vegetable crops are under threat as there are no workers. Meanwhile, fruit and vegetable demand in Europe is booming. In Canada, the pandemic also impacts economic activity and in Florida, the agricultural industry witnesses a drop in demand. In the Philippines traders are going online to sell their mangoes, and the same might happen in India as their seems to be no demand for the Ulavapadu mangoes.This, and much more, in today's update.

France hopes people will 'buy French' as single market erodes
French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire issued a rallying cry to the nation’s supermarkets on 24 March: ‘Stock French products.’

Supermarkets in France have heeded the call for what Le Maire termed "economic patriotism". French supermarket chain Carrefour has already moved to source 95% of its fruits and vegetables from within France. The supermarket industry’s trade body, La Féderation du Commerce et de la Distribution, told French business daily Les Echos that once fresh foreign produce runs out on French supermarket shelves, it won’t be replaced.

“Delegating our food supply […] to others is madness. We have to take back control,” French President Emmanuel Macron said in a speech just two weeks before Le Maire announced the economic measures.

But for a continent that has built an intricate agro-food market connected by cross-border supply chains, France’s plea to focus inwards for its food supply is a cause for concern for Brussels.

Also, with Covid-19 keeping foreign seasonal labourers away and time running out before fruit and vegetables rot, there has been an appeal to French people who are not currently working to help harvest crops and sow seeds. However, it has had mixed results.

A platform launched in mid-march called “Des bras pour ton assiette” has yielded around 150,000 applications so far but about 200,000 will be needed until the end of the harvest season in September, according to the FNSEA, the main agricultural sector union. The greatest need is in the South of France.

German vegetable crop threatened as virus shuts out workers
Currently, Germany’s fruit and vegetable harvest is under threat from the travel bans that are preventing Eastern Europeans from working on German farms, the BOGK association of German fruit and vegetable processors said on Monday.

Neighbouring Poland, the source of many of Germany’s seasonal workers and an important transit country for such workers from other Eastern European countries, has restricted foreigners from entering its territory in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

“The bans, which are preventing foreign seasonal workers entering the country, are endangering sowing, planting and harvesting,” the BOGK association said. “What is not harvested cannot be processed ... supplies for the population would no longer be secure from summer 2020.”

Germany itself has introduced temporary border controls on its frontiers with Austria, Switzerland, France, Luxembourg and Denmark.

Fruit and vegetable demand in Europe is booming
The demand in Europe for fruit and vegetables has seen a large increase in recent weeks, which is being attributed to the measures and restrictions in relation to Covid-19. The European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Janusz Wojciechowski, outlined the increased demand at a meeting of the EU’s agriculture ministers last week.

“The consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables in the EU has been booming in recent weeks. Spain, Italy and the Netherlands report 40% increases, and Germany up to 100%. Demand is expected to stay strong during the containment period,” the commissioner explained.

However, some EU fruit exports have slowed down, particularly those destined for China. Citrus fruits from Spain have been most affected by this. Exports of these fruits from the country usually peak in March, April and May. There appears to be limited opportunities to redirect these exports to other markets, the commissioner explained.

Statistics Canada expects COVID-19 to impact inflation
Statistics Canada expects the Corona-virus to impact inflation, already pointing downwards, as the pandemic impacts economic activity. Citing declining demand for travel and oil among other factors, the agency expects a notable impact on consumer prices for various goods in the foreseeable future.

“Because of these factors, as well as supply chain disruptions for consumer goods, temporary closures of some stores and service providers, the recent lowering of interest rates and the recent slowing of economic activity, the price effects of the outbreak could be more deeply felt in subsequent months,” it reads in an analysis of inflation figures released Friday.

Accounting for seasonal factors, inflation across Canada rose by 0.1 per cent in February 2020, matching the increase in January 2020.

Florida’s agro industry witnesses drop in demand
Those that are working in the US agricultural industry, especially those in Florida, are still feeling the impacts. The agricultural industry is the second biggest contributor to Florida's economy behind tourism. Small scale farmers across the state are seeing the biggest impacts from the pandemic.

John Hoblick, president of Florida Farm Bureau: "Smaller producers are usually a niche type producer that supply the restaurants or supply farmers markets and those because of the social aspects that we have to deal with you know have been shut down."

Another major concern comes in the form of labor. Farms who use the H2A program have seen a delay in those workers getting to our area.

Brittany Lee, a local blueberry farmer: "Our farm uses H2A contracted workers from Mexico and they have not arrived yet, which is a little stressful, but the association, Florida Farm Bureau, and Florida Fruit and Vegetable all have been working together with the us department of ag to expedite those worker visas for ag commodities. Last week and this week the demand is lower than the same weeks that correlate to 2019… and that’s concerning."

Moreover, the visa confusion in Mexico is keeping out agriculture workers. While it is watermelon season in Florida. But as the top U.S. watermelon-producing state prepares for harvest, many of the workers needed to collect the crop are stuck in Mexico, unable to secure visas.

Restricted visa services, quickly evolving regulations and increased border controls risk wider labor shortages in the United States produce industry that may leave grocery stores scrambling for fruits and vegetables as spring and summer harvests spread across the United States.

Washington farm industry faces logistics problems
As Spokane-area farmers have begun spring planting, apple growers set a new sales record during the panic buying as the region continues to adjust to a pandemic that has disrupted most daily lives.

But while items from flour to eggs have been flying off supermarket shelves, including a wild run on apples, that hasn’t immediately helped farmers in Washington, several industry experts said. The higher demand at grocery stores hasn’t covered the market drop for milk, beef and produce that had been sold to restaurants.

“So far, agriculture is doing better than equities,” said Randy Fortenbery, an agriculture economist at Washington State University. “But the risk is not so much what happens to prices, it’s more what happens to logistics. If we have problems getting product to port and vessels out to sea, that’s where we’ll see some potential problems.”

Guimaras, Philippines: Online selling to dispose of mangoes
The mango season in the Philippines’ island province of Guimaras finds growers denied their usual markets this year because COVID-19 has restricted tourist movements and cancelled fiestas and trade fairs.

“(Mango farmers) asked for our help because they have a rich supply of mangoes but they find it difficult to sell due to the community quarantine imposed in other provinces,” Lenny S. Gonzaga, economist at the Provincial Economic Development Office (PEDO), said last week.

Earlier this month, the provincial government banned the entry of tourists and non-essential persons following the COVID-19 outbreak. Iloilo City, the main gateway to the province, has also been placed under enhanced community quarantine to limit the movement of people.

“It has really had a huge impact on our farmers. Before the crisis, Guimaras mangoes were easy to sell and farmers had sure buyers. Now, many of their transactions were cancelled due to the travel restrictions,” Ms. Gonzaga said.

India: No demand for famed Ulavapadu mangoes in Prakasam
Mango growers in the Prakasam district are a worried as the country-wide lockdown to prevent the spread of novel coronavirus coincided with marketing of the king of fruits.

The output this year has been quite encouraging as there was good precipitation, ending five years of consecutive droughts. Flowering also occurred at the right time in December/January promising an yield of about five tonnes per acre.

But the outbreak of the dreaded disease has put paid to their hopes of reaping the benefits. Upcountry buyers, who used to make a beeline for the orchards in and around the ‘mango village’ of Ulavapadu in the district, have not turned up yet to confirm orders, a group of farmers from the village stated.

The best quality mangoes are normally moved to cities such as Chennai, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bengaluru and from there to the US, Europe and West Asian countries.

Turkish citizens complain about high garlic prices
Turkish citizens who shop at the public market in Kirikkale can only buy 3 or 5 pieces while complaining about the high prices of garlic. A market tradesman who suggested that the reason for the increase in garlic prices was flooding, “Garlic is expensive because of the  flooding. Because we don't have garlic in place, we are buying it for 40 liras, we sell it for 50 liras. There is no garlic anywhere in Kastamonu at the moment.

Kerala pineapple growers seek help as lockdown hits harvest
The initiative by the Indian federal government to help tomato farmers in Madhya Pradesh market their harvested stock has prompted Kerala’s pineapple growers to seek similar help from the authorities.

According to growers, around 5,000 tonnes of pineapple is ready for harvest across 45,000 acres in various parts of Kerala. However, the lockdown has adversely affected the harvest, leading to the decaying of the fruit. Around 1,000 tonnes have already rotten and the government should take urgent measures to resolve the crisis, said Baby John, president of Pineapple Growers Association Keralam.

The harvested fruit, he said, can be made available directly to the retail market in the State, which is facing shortage of fruits and vegetables due to the disruption in cargo movement. Also, the government could consider including pineapple in the food kit being distributed to people affected by the lockdown, he added.

Union calls on UK government to support ferry industry
P&O Ferries is temporarily standing down 1,100 staff members in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The operator announced its decision yesterday and said it would be suspending its passenger services between Dover and Calais and focusing all its efforts on bringing in freight to the UK.

Chief executive Janette Bell said due to the pandemic, P&O Ferries was having to respond with new measures to keep the business operational and to keep freight moving.

She said: "With respect to the UK, we bring in about 15% of all the goods the country currently urgently needs. The biggest part of which is food, including fresh fruit and vegetables from southern Europe and North Africa, as well as vital medicines and medical equipment. P&O Ferries is also handling important, but hazardous goods, such as detergents and cleaning products.”

Fruit and veg group Total Produce warns about profits
Total Produce, the fruit and vegetable producer chaired by Carl McCann, has become the latest listed business to delay its planned shareholder meeting as it warned that full-year earnings, though expected to be “satisfactory” were now likely to be lower than in 2019.

In a Covid-19 update, the company said the spread of the coronavirus pandemic was having an increasingly significant impact on the global economy in the three weeks since it published its full year results. At that time, Mr McCann had said the outbreak was not expected to have any material impact on Total Produce’s business, though he conceded it was too early to form a “definitive view.” However, the company said on Friday that its supply chains were functioning “adequately” and remained open in all its markets.

How the coronavirus crisis is affecting food supplies
Like other parts of the global economy, food supply chains have been disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic and empty supermarket shelves have become a symbol of the crisis.

An in-depth article about the way panic buying in some countries has led to some grocery staples like pasta and flour being sold out in supermarkets in recent weeks. Retailers say they are able to replenish most products while bakery and pasta firms in Europe and North America have cranked up production.

Food firms say panic purchases are subsiding once households have stocked up and as they adjust to lockdown routines. However, shoppers may have to get used to less varied or more local food offerings. Logistical snags from closed borders to reduced workforces are putting strain on usual supply routes, particularly for fresh produce.

The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation has warned that any rush by importers to buy staples could fuel global food inflation, despite ample reserves of staple crops. Swings in commodity markets are not necessarily passed on in prices of grocery goods, as food firms typically buy raw materials in advance. Some poorer countries also have subsidized food programmes that ensure price stability.

Prices of fruit and veg in Argentina went up considerably
Since the implementation of the quarantine due to the coronavirus crisis last week, the prices of the basic Argentinian food basket saw some significant increases, especially those of basic products such as meat, fruit and vegetables.

The increases occurred precisely in the items where demand was more concentrated and where the measurement of prices is more difficult, since purchases are made in local shops, where controls are usually more lax.

Juan Ignacio Paolicchi, an economist with the consulting firm Eco Go, explains that “this is an atypical month in which there was a change in relative prices. “The consumption basket changed as demand fell in some segments that are not essential,” he says.

The Federal Administration of Public Revenues (AFIP) and the Ministry of Domestic Trade reported the results of the controls in different shops. “There were 1,605 price control and supply operations in shops during the first nine days of compulsory social isolation, in which violations of up to 100% of the audits carried out in one day were recorded”.

Davao City to buy vegetables off Filipino farmers
The Davao city government will buy the produce of vegetable farmers to help them cope up with the loss of income due to the community quarantine imposed amid the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak, Mayor Sara Duterte said Monday. She has stated that the vegetables from the affected farmers will be distributed to the residents for free. Duterte noted that several farmers have already complained that their livelihood had been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The demand for vegetables from restaurants has significantly declined after the city was placed under community quarantine on March 15, she said, citing their complaints. “The city agriculturist will buy the vegetables from the farmers since they have an issue with demand. Most restaurants only retained their take-out and food delivery services. In effect, there are fewer customers, and so they only buy fewer vegetables from the farmers,” Duterte explained.

Meanwhile, other sources point to a possible food shortage looms in parts of the Philippines. Faced with a looming food crisis, as the financial assistance promised by the Philippine government has yet to reach them, people in various parts of Luzon are left to their own devices to stave off hunger. A local government plans to distribute repacked vegetable seeds to help households grow "survival gardens".

Cambodian banana exports booming despite pandemic
Cambodia exported 72,182 tonnes of fresh yellow bananas to international markets during the first three month of this year, a Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries report said. Most of the bananas were exported to China, with the rest being shipped to Vietnam and Japan. Cambodia’s yellow banana exports to China have increased rapidly since the first shipment of bananas was sent in mid-2019.

Last year, Cambodia exported a total 157,812 tonnes of yellow bananas and on average, it exports an average of more than 795 tonnes of bananas per day, the report said. Hun Lak, the director of Longmate Agriculture Co Ltd, which invests in 1,000ha of banana plantations in Kampot province, told The Post on Monday that China is the biggest market for his company.

India: Mother Dairy supplies 250 tonnes of fruits & vegetables
Mother Dairy on Monday supplied around 250 tonnes of fruits and vegetables to its retail stores ‘Safal’ across Delhi-NCR to meet local demand amid the nationwide lockdown, a senior company official said. Last week, the company had double its supply of fruits and vegetables in the Delhi-NCR at over 300 tonnes per day, as customers began panic-buying of household essentials after announcement of the 21-day nationwide lockdown.

“We have supplied around 250 tonnes of fruits and vegetables today (Monday). The supply has come down from over 300 tonnes last week as panic-buying has stopped but still it is more than normal,” PTI quoted Sood as saying.

Now that local vendors have the permission to sell fruits and vegetables in colonies, the demand at Safal stores have normalised. Due to the sufficient amount of supply of all vegetables in the local markets the prices of veggies like potatoes, tomatoes and cauliflowers, too have come down.

Live streaming boosts Chinese farm produce sales
When Hangzhou Women’s Federation visited Dayang Town in Jiande County in late February, officials found that around 900 tons of mandarin oranges were difficult to sell because of the novel coronavirus outbreak. To help local farmers with their produce, the federation launched online sales on Taobao Live, a popular streaming platform. So far, the federation has held six sales promotions, resulting in online sales of 865 tons of Dayang’s mandarin oranges.

Produce from Tonglu, Jiande, Chun’an and Lin’an counties and Fuyang District have also been featured with sales worth 4 million yuan (US$ 563,500) in just nine days. The federation has established a department to direct livestream projects, inviting industry insiders and Internet celebrities to train women farmers.

“We hope more Internet celebrities will join the federation’s livestream activities. That is our responsibility to give a boost to public service projects, especially those related with women and children,” said Zhang Dayi, who has 11.72 million followers on social media.

Fruit exporters urge Thai growers to maintain sanitary standards
“Despite the Covid-19 crisis having a large negative impact on the economy, exports of fresh fruit from Thailand are still operational as demand from China continues, fruit exporters have urged Thai growers to ensure higher sanitary standards to protect the industry from the effects of the pandemic.” This from the president of Thai Fresh Fruit Traders and Exporters Association, Paiboon Wongchotesathit.

To safeguard the export market, Paiboon urged exporters to apply high sanitary standards to ensure that the shipments are not tainted with the Covid-19 virus, especially fruit like durian, longan and mangosteen which are the main fruits that Thailand imports. He also asks exporters to make sure that workers wear face masks and to supply hand gel for food pickers and packers so their hands are frequently cleansed.

“If the workers are infected and transmit the virus to customers through droplets on products, the whole export industry will be ruined. Fruit exports, especially durian, will be able to achieve growth this year because Chinese consumers are likely to cut back on travel and focus on import and export.”

Mettupalayam auction halted; 80 tons of garlic with no takers
The Mettupalayam auction of garlic has come to a halt amid the Indian lockdown. Traders and farmers find it difficult to arrive for auction, and the regular procedures don’t hold, said garlic traders association president N.S.V. Arumukham.

Under usual circumstances, the garlic procured on Thursday, Friday and Saturday would be stored separately. On Sunday, auctions are then held at six centres and garlic will be exported to other places. On an average 320 tons of garlic is auctioned where 200 farmers and around 350 traders attend.

At last Sunday's auction, 200 tons of garlic was sold. The remaining 80 tons have piled up with no takers.

Empty shelves incite some Brits to grow their own vegetables
Supermarket store shelves stripped of essentials and rationing of food delivery slots have brought the sustainability of UK supplies into question. Countries worldwide announcing nationwide lockdowns and workers falling ill or being forced to self-isolate have raised questions about where Britain’s produce comes from and who gets it to the supermarkets.

Over half of the UK’s food is produced by suppliers within the country, helping to lessen the impact of any potential disruption to shipping from overseas. Even so, the country is still reliant on the EU for over a quarter its imports.

Some Britons are taking matters into their own hands. Sales of fruit and vegetable seeds have sky rocketed as people locked down in their own homes look for a productive way to fill their time and gardens, according to the Royal Horticultural Society.

Countries might start hoarding food, threatening global trade
It’s not just grocery shoppers who are hoarding pantry staples. Some governments are moving to secure domestic food supplies during the coronavirus pandemic. Kazakhstan, one of the world’s biggest shippers of wheat flour, banned exports of that product along with others, including carrots, sugar and potatoes. Vietnam temporarily suspended new rice export contracts. Serbia has stopped the flow of its sunflower oil and other goods, while Russia is leaving the door open to shipment bans and said it’s assessing the situation weekly.

To be perfectly clear, there have been just a handful of moves and no sure signs that much more is on the horizon. Still, what’s been happening has raised a question: Is this the start of a wave of food nationalism that will further disrupt supply chains and trade flows?

Korea’s Gangwon potatoes more popular than ever
Since securing a box of face masks during the coronavirus outbreak has become an impossible feat these days, some people have settled instead for a box of potatoes. To be exact, 10 kilograms (22 pounds) of potatoes for just 5,000 won ($4.10). The race to buy potatoes from Gangwon began with an idea thought up at the Gangwon Provincial Office in early March.

Governor Choi Moon-soon hosted a meeting at the office early in the month and told his staff about how many potato farmers in Gangwon no longer had retail partners due to school cafeterias remaining closed and local restaurants faring poorly in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak. According to the provincial government, there were as many 11,000 tons of potatoes harvested in October and November of 2019 that needed to be sold by April, when the next batch of potatoes needed to be planted.

In order to meet the heightened demand from consumers, the provincial government eventually secured 8,000 to 10,000 boxes a day. They still sold out within minutes.

Road Haulage and Freight Lobby gets official recognition for logistics workers
Official confirmation of the importance of logistics in this stressful time was given today in a letter from the Department for Transport clarifying that the essential roles played by road haulage drivers and others in the freight supply chain will not be interfered by officialdom who may otherwise misinterpret government guidelines about travel and work.

The letter, outlining that all travel related to the operation of logistics or necessary travel by logistics workers to places of work such as distribution centres is considered ‘essential travel’ in the context of current restrictions, was delivered to the Road Haulage Association (RHA) and the Freight Transport Association (FTA), both of whom have been closely involved in lobbying and advising the government on the specialities of their respective members.

Possible advantages of COVID 19 for the industry
Companies linked to agriculture, as providers of technology, services, training or knowledge, will see their demand redoubled by the entry of new actors to the undertakings of agricultural projects.

The world is in the midst of a systemic crisis. However, this is not an impediment to reflect and evaluate in a primary way the possible scenarios that can be created in the near future according to the behavior of society and the development of the pandemic.

At first glance, there is a consensus that the production, transport, distribution and supply of agricultural food is a strategic and vital element for human survival, and, detaching from this, fresh and healthy foods are those that are privileged for consumption.

Companies linked to agriculture, as providers of technology, services, training or knowledge, will also see their demand redoubled by the entry of these new actors to the undertakings of agricultural projects.

WVDA works with local impacted producers and farmers
The West Virginia Department of Agriculture (WVDA) is working with local producers and farmers impacted by COVID-19 by facilitating communication between producers and potential buyers. Business development and marketing staff have received calls from multiple producers are who experiencing a surplus of food or other burdens due to the pandemic. To assist these affected businesses, the Department will provide an on-going directory to those who are interested in being connected with a local, West Virginia farmer and their availability of food.

“We are early in the growing season but many of our West Virginia farmers have lost potential buyers with the shutdown of business such as restaurants. That does not mean there is a lack of need within the food supply but an indication that many businesses have opted to close their businesses to help reduce the spread of the virus. Our hope is to connect those with food to those who need it,” said Commissioner of Agriculture Kent Leonhardt.

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