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

Corona-update: German government to relax border controls for farm workers

To tackle problems with logistics and shipment bottlenecks, the British Ports Association has launched a new information resource for UK ports dealing with the coronavirus outbreak, while Dublin and Cork port operators say imports of essential items increased. On Thursday, the German government acknowledged it would allow foreign workers into the country to help harvest fruit and vegetable crops on farms.

In a heart-warming twist, a young Dutch farmer pays tribute to healthcare workers on the front line. American farm experts are talking about the uncertainty the US farmers are facing. Also, as we’re heading in what we hope will be a comforting weekend, there is the comprehensive report on the COVID-19 impact on different nations.

BPA launched new information resource for UK ports
The British Ports Association (BPA) has launched a new information resource for UK ports dealing with the coronavirus outbreak. The ports industry undertakes a vital role in the UK economy, facilitating trade, fuel, energy, fishing, recreation and tourism. All tiers of Government and the industry are committed to UK ports staying open to help sustain the country during this challenging time.

The BPA has been working flat-out to support the industry with regular calls and correspondence with the UK and devolved Governments on everything from business support and key workers, to security and fishing. We are also continuing to push for an expansion of testing and protective equipment for ports’ essential key workers.

Given the volume of information and guidance being issued on a daily basis from Government(s) and numerous agencies, the BPA is now signposting all of this content in one place in a clear and concise manner.

Kent farmers talk about impact of pandemic
UK farms of all sizes have been adapting to a new way of life, trying to cope with the increase in demand for food and the challenges the virus has posed for their workforces and how they do business.

One of the UK's major fruit producers, AC Goatham & Sons, based in Hoo, grows one in three apples and pears sold in the UK. The company's commercial director, Carol Ford, said: “We want to reassure everyone that Goatham’s has plenty of delicious British apples and pears in our cold stores here in Medway and our team is working hard every day to distribute them so that the supermarkets can keep their shelves well stocked with British produce. We control every step in our supply chain, from growing the fruit in our orchards, packing and cold storage operations to our own fleet of lorries to deliver them to supermarkets daily. Our farm teams are also very busy out in our orchards looking after the health of our trees, ready to start growing a new season of apples and pears which will be harvested from August to November.”

The National Farmers' Union has joined with the government to launch a recruitment drive to fill the potential 70,000 gap of seasonal workers, most of whom will not be able to travel from Europe to help with the harvest.

The NFU have launched a recruitment drive to help bolster supplies of seasonal workers

Germany to relax coronavirus border controls for farm workers
On Thursday, the German government acknowledged it would allow foreign workers into the country to help harvest fruit and vegetable crops on farms. Previous travel restrictions imposed will be relaxed to combat the new coronavirus.

Countries across the European Union, including Germany, have set up border controls to stem the spread of the virus, but with the side effect of preventing cross-border workers travelling to their jobs.

The European Union Commission on Monday also urged EU countries to allow the hundreds of thousands of seasonal migrant workers who plant or harvest crops to cross borders despite national measures to contain the coronavirus.

Germany’s agriculture ministry said on Thursday it had reached agreement with Germany’s interior ministry to allow up to 40,000 seasonal farm workers into the country in April and another 40,000 in May. The workers should travel by air rather than by bus to protect against the threat of coronavirus, the agriculture ministry said.

Dublin and Cork ports: Operators say imports of essential items increased
The operators of Dublin and Cork ports have said imports of food and other essential items have increased since the Covid-19 outbreak here over a month ago. They said contingencies are in place to ensure ports stay open and supply chains remain intact.

Their trading figures indicate the Covid-19 outbreak has seen increased demand for food and other essential items. This is backed up by evidence of panic buying and empty supermarket shelves.

The Port of Cork insists that trade is up and supply chains have been unaffected by the coronavirus outbreak.

Dutch farmer pays tribute to front line healthcare workers reported on Dutch farmer Piet-Jan van der Eijk, son of an arable farmer, who ‘drew’ a huge heart in his family’s onion field near the town of Dronten in The Netherlands. He called it ‘a goodwill gesture of support and thanks for all healthcare workers’.


Piet-Jan van der Eijk in the process of “drawing”
Image: Piet-Jan van der Eijk

Journalist Ruth van Schriek with the Dutch based ag website Akkerwijzer reports he drew the heart with the help of GPS and a tractor drawn high speed harrow in one of his family’s onion fields.

Van der Eijk: “I just wanted to do something for healthcare; to give them recognition and honour them. I took pictures of the heart with a drone. And you won’t believe how many planes and helicopters have already flown over it! ”

American farmers devastated by coronavirus
While American farmers were already suffering from last year's weather disasters, now the situation has become quite a bit worse. The coronavirus pandemic is leaving them with badly needed food but fewer places to sell it.

With restaurants and hospitality sites shuttered, produce is rotting and business is down as much as 90% for smaller farmers who normally provide tomatoes, cabbage and green beans to eateries and grocers.

Uncertainty is the new normal for US farmers, who saw their crops ravaged by last year's torrential rains and blistering heat waves. Agricultural exports have been severely slashed because of China trade wars, with milk exports plummeting 50% in 2019.

MSC uses short sea services to keep European supply lines open
Recent measures to limit the spread of COVID-19 have created new disruptions and slowdowns to intra-European trade and traffic, putting strains on the supply chain for the delivery of essential goods – including food, medical equipment and other vital supplies.

Short sea shipping refers to the movement of cargo by sea over relatively short distances, as opposed to the intercontinental cross-ocean deep sea shipping. To cope with the current the COVID-19 situation, MSC is ready to help its customers minimise the disruptions to their businesses by taking some cargo off the road and avoiding traffic bottlenecks.

With border closures and strict controls now under way in many European countries, intra-European road transport is delayed by lengthy traffic jams.

MSC keeps working tirelessly to provide essential container shipping and logistics services within Europe and across the global economy. As one of the key actors in international supply chains, it is maintaining its strong customer focus everywhere, continuing to ensure a range of services across all markets.

COVID-19 impact update has presented a logistics impact update regarding the COVID-19 situation.

The borders within the Schengen area and between the European Union and the rest of the world are partially or completely closed. And this for a period of 30 days from Tuesday, March 17 at noon.

The flow of goods is free from these restrictions so as not to break supply chains. The transport of goods therefore remains authorized. However, certain arrangements and specific measures taken by the countries have a direct impact on freight capacities, the rates, the speed of processing operations, the delivery time.

Air freight: Most passengers' air flights are being stopped, removing significantly the cargo capacity on most of the power lanes. The US ban has stopped the movement of people, not goods. In all regions freight forwarding is still possible but with very limited connections.

Click here for the comprehensive report.

Dallas produce company is doing pop-up sales
A Dallas produce company that previously sold directly to restaurants only is now taking their wares to the public. FreshPoint Dallas is the local office of one of the largest distributors of fresh fruits and vegetables in North America, and is doing occasional pop-up sales of its fresh fruits and vegetables including one that took place on Thursday April 2 at Trinity Groves.

At Trinity Groves, people could choose from two "boxes," one fruits, one vegetables, $20 each. They were sold kerbside so people didn’t even need to leave their cars to purchase.

District manager Shane Lovell says this is definitely a new enterprise, during these lean coronavirus times. "We have opened the market to the retail side," Lovell says. "We did two last week and have a couple more planned. Right now, they're in various We're working with some of our customers who are open to the idea, and who have a place where we can park trucks, plus good exposure and good foot traffic."

Hong Kong food shortage risk after mainland China tightens border checks
Hong Kong could face food shortages after mainland Chinese authorities tightened controls on the city’s 10,000 cross-border truckers to battle the Covid-19 outbreak, a drivers’ group has warned.

From Saturday, drivers without a health certificate from a hospital saying they have not tested positive for the coronavirus in the previous two weeks will be refused entry at the border.

The new health measures, announced by Shenzhen authorities on Wednesday, came as a shock for many of Hong Kong’s cross-border truckers, who would need to get a health certificate before the rules come in.

“The new requirement is imposed in such a rush, which is an impossible thing for the cross-border drivers, especially when local hospitals are operating under very strained resources and manpower right now,” Stanley Chiang Chi-wai, chairman of the Hong Kong Land Transport Council, said.

However, he added: “There’s no need for panic. I believe both the Hong Kong and mainland governments will negotiate a way out for the cross-border truck drivers.”

Watermelons might go to waste in Bengal
Over 5,000 watermelon farmers in Cooch Behar are fearing losing most of their produce as wholesale traders have not come to buy the fruits because of the coronavirus-induced lockdown. The farmers said the watermelons were ready for harvest and that 70 per cent of their produce could rot in the fields if no buyers turned up during the lockdown, which is to continue till April 14.

Around 100 tonnes of watermelon are cultivated in the Cooch Behar, Mathabhanga and Dinhata sub-divisions of the district. Every year, the fruit is harvested in the beginning of summer and much of the produce is sent to other states.

“We get buyers from other states every year. But this year, because of the lockdown, the buyers are not coming. I have cultivated watermelon on my eight-bigha plot and the fruit is ready for harvest. I am keeping my fingers crossed because if the buyers do not come, the fruits will rot in the field,” said Naresh Burman, a farmer in Mathabhanga-II block.

Local politicians also said that if the fruit is not merchandised in time, thousands of farmers would suffer losses.

Indian fruit exports likely to be hit due to virus situation
Exports of fruits, including Alphonso mango, grapes and pomegranates, will be hit badly this year following the breakdown of supply chain and lack of demand as the world is grappling with an economic slowdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, an exporter said. The supply to local wholesale markets is normal and on Thursday 100 trucks carrying Alphonso mango arrived at the Vashi market, APMC director Sanjay Pansare said.

“The export of Alphonso mango has already begun to Europe and the Middle Eastern countries. However, we are expecting exports to be badly hit and there will be weak demand. During this kind of scenario people usually give preference to essential commodities and imported fruits are considered a luxury,” Pansare stated.

Canacona to cultivate fast growing vegetable varieties
Amidst reports of shortage of vegetables due to the lockdown, farmers of Canacona have come forward to use their land to grow fast growing varieties of vegetables so that these vegetables can be sold in the local markets.

The Agricultural Department, in a quick action, has also started supplying various varieties of seeds through their Zonal Agricultural Offices all over Goa.

Zonal Agricultural Officer of Canacona Zone Shivram Naikgaonkar said that the novel idea originated from a member of a WhatsApp group which has farmers and facilitators as its members. “Our department has risen to the occasion and we have already made arrangements to supply the required vegetable seeds to the farmers in Goa.”

Naikgaonkar informed that seeds of lady finger, amaranthus, spring bean, spinach, fenugreek, ash gourd and ridge gourd were supplied to farmers from all over the taluka on Thursday.

Sudan fruit export halted
The export of Sudanese vegetables and fruits has stopped because of the significantly increased costs of transportation, inside the country and abroad.

The costs of transport in Sudan are soaring because of the continuing fuel crisis, and shipping by air and sea have has become extremely expensive as well due to the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, the Director General of the Sudanese Centre for the Sterilisation of Horticultural Export, Abdelrahman Abdelmajid told reporters in Khartoum on Wednesday.

Large amounts of vegetables and fruit, “abundantly produced in Sudan to cover the high demand in foreign markets”, are now accumulating in Suakin.

Abdelmajid further explained that in addition to shortages of fuel which already led to high internal transport costs, there is a scarcity of lorries in the country.

Tough decisions for vegetable traders as coronavirus hits Kenya
Fresh vegetable and fruit traders in Kisii are registering losses after the county closed all open-air markets two weeks ago to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease.

The move has affected more than 500 traders why earn their livelihood from Kisii town’s fresh produce markets. Inflicting more pain on their trade is the closure of most hotels and restaurants in the town, and disruptions to the supply chain. Traders have now resorted to playing ‘hide-and-seek’ with law enforcers in an effort to earn enough money to support their families.

Most of them have resorted to door-to-door hawking of produce, which they do stealthily to dodge county and public health officials.

Daraja Mbili Market, which accommodates fresh and fruit vegetable vendors, was also closed two weeks ago. Most traders here are involved in wholesale trade. Tomato sellers, for instance, source for the vegetable from as far off as Uganda and Tanzania.

Also affected are traders who transport goods from Kitale in Trans Nzoia County and Kilgoris in Narok County, where indigenous and other fresh vegetables are grown on a large scale.

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