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

Corona-update: Dutch farmers faced with a million tons of leftover potatoes

As a new week dawns on the many nations struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic, it is reported that many Dutch farmers are faced with a million tons of potatoes left over from last season due. The European Union has eased some food safety controls, while in the north-western states of the US, growers are ready to start harvesting. In the south-east, some Florida growers are forced to leave their crops to rot.

Startling reports claim that Africa faces complete economic collapse and that Zimbabwe is also suffering under the lockdown. This, and much, much more in our daily Corona-virus update.

Dutch farmers face billion kilo potato pile
Many Dutch farmers are facing a mountain of a problem, with a million tons of potatoes left over from last season due to the coronavirus outbreak. Restaurants in the Netherlands, many serving popular deep fried “patat”, have been closed since mid-March, with a ban on public gatherings set to last until June 1 at least.. With their closure, the market for potatoes collapsed overnight.

“This is a dramatic season, a turn of events no one could have predicted,” said Dirk de Heer from his farm in Beemster, in North Holland.

De Heer is one of around a thousand farmers in the Netherlands in the same situation. He says he is selling his crop to a dairy farmer for 0.01 euro per kilogram, instead of the 18 cents he had hoped to receive. Food potato production in the Netherlands is roughly 4 million tons annually, of which a quarter is exported.

The country’s agricultural organization LTO estimates damages from the virus outbreak so far at 6 billion euros, with the floral industry also hard-hit.

EU eases some food safety controls because of pandemic
The European Commission is to give member states more flexibility to do official controls in the food supply chain because of coronavirus. The Commission leaders say the crisis relating to coronavirus disease (COVID-19) represents an “exceptional and unprecedented” challenge for the capacity of member states to conduct official controls and other official activities in line with EU legislation.

Some nations have expressed difficulties in performing official controls and other activities which require the physical presence of control staff. This includes clinical examination of animals, certain checks on products of animal origin, plant products and on food and feed of non-animal origin, and testing of samples in official laboratories designated by member states.

Northwest US growers scramble to start harvesting
Northwest growers are scrambling to figure out how to work around the global coronavirus pandemic and still bring in the coming harvest.

North of Pasco, Washington, Jim Middleton’s farm crew is washing stacks of plastic boxes, called lugs. Soon, they’ll be packed with fresh-cut asparagus. The packing shed is a very small space, but workers can keep their distance from one another in the field.

Harvest begins in a few days, and he’s had little time to react. Asparagus harvest is brief and intense. It goes on every day for 10 weeks. Just one or two virus cases could cripple his operation. 

Off the record, other farmers say they’re really worried. They can’t find the normal cleaning supplies required by the federal government, pre-pandemic — supplies like bleach for wiping down worker stations.

They’re also worried about training their staff in time, especially in fruit and vegetable processing facilities, where workers often stand shoulder to shoulder.

COVID-19 forces some Florida growers to leave product to rot
Florida’s fresh produce farmers say they face a bleak future as COVID-19 precautions dry up demand. In particular, Florida’s blueberry crop is getting hit right before peak harvest.

“The coronavirus is something very different,” said Bud Chiles, owner of Jubilee Orchards and son of former Florida Governor Lawton Chiles. “It’s a black swan that has really put a pall over everyone.”

Florida’s Blueberry Growers Association estimates an at least 70% drop in sales compared to this time a year ago. Prices, they say, are down at least 30%.

“It’s across the board,” Chiles said. “It’s not small or large [farms]. It’s everywhere.”

Norway: Food and drink sector welcomes move to employ agriculture workers
Norwegian food and drink association NHO Mat og Drikke has welcomed an initiative by the Norwegian government to encourage those that have been laid off by their employer due to COVID-19 to take up a role in the agri-food sector.

New legislation means that if a worker is laid off and takes up an agricultural role, he or she will be able to earn both a salary from the farmer as well as half his or her unemployment benefit. The initiative was introduced due to fears that the farming sector in Norway will be particularly affected by the coronavirus, particularly due to a lack of seasonal workers.

"This is a scheme that will provide incentives for laid-off workers to work in the fruit and vegetable sector," commented Petter Haas Brubakk, CEO of NHO Mat og Drikke. "If we manage to transition laid-off workers to employment in fields and greenhouses, even more farmers and gardeners can carry out the season as planned. It will be a relief to many concerned business leaders in this industry."

Brubakk added that seasonal workers constitute a very important segment of workers in the fruit and vegetable industry, many with 'valuable expertise'.

Effects of COVID-19 on Florida agriculture
The coronavirus has affected many US industries, and the farming industry is one that has felt the impact of the outbreak. Florida farmers are facing unprecedented times as the demand for produce has decreased.

State Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said Thursday night via conference call that Florida farmers are currently facing many hardships. “COVID-19 is affecting all of our lives and every corner of our economy,” she said. We know that for producers, that means a major decrease in demand due to restaurants and schools being closed. ”

John Hoblick, president of the Florida Farm Bureau, said he thinks Fried’s department is working tirelessly to find solutions.

“The department is quite honestly working with the higher-ups and the federal government and pushing the information that’s pertinent to our producers each and every day that we produce,” he said.

Fried said the state is currently working on connecting producers to additional markets within Florida and other states. They have also maintained contact with large retailers like Walmart, Whole Foods, and Publix to encourage them to purchase more Florida produce. They are also coordinating with state departments like the Department of Corrections that are in need of fresh food.

Lufthansa transforms passenger airplane to transport cargo
With airplanes hardly carrying any passengers, if any at all, Lufthanse is showing innovative solutions to get more cargo in the plane. A demonstration of this was shared on LinkedIn; you can watch the video here.

‘Africa faces complete economic collapse’
At this point in time, the global economic crisis linked to the coronavirus could wipe out jobs for millions across the African continent, many who live hand-to-mouth with zero savings.

"We've been through a lot on the continent. Ebola, yes, African governments took a hit, but we have not seen anything like this before," Ahunna Eziakonwa, the United Nations Development Program regional director for Africa, told The Associated Press. "The African labor market is driven by imports and exports and with the lockdown everywhere in the world, it means basically that the economy is frozen in place.

More than half of Africa's 54 countries have imposed lockdowns, curfews, travel bans or other measures in a bid to prevent local transmission of the virus. They range from South Africa, where inequality and crime plague Africa's most developed country, to places like Uganda, where the informal sector accounts for more than 50% of the country's gross domestic product.

With some governments saying they're unable to offer direct support, the fate of Africa's large informal sector could be a powerful example of what experts predict will be unprecedented damage to economies in the developing world. Among the millions made jobless are casual laborers, petty traders, street vendors, mechanics, taxi operators and conductors, housekeepers and waitresses, and dealers in everything from used clothes to construction hardware.

Click here to read the full article.

Can US agriculture handle labor shortages and panic buying?
Restaurants have been shuttered for weeks. Farms have been struggling with labor shortages for years. And grocery stores have been running out of bread, meat and eggs. So what does that all mean for the national food supply during the COVID-19 pandemic?

The short answer is that US agriculture is strong enough to handle it, with farmers still farming and no major shortages in sight, experts say. But because consumers recently have changed the way they buy and consume food, various snags in the food supply chain have led to disruptions, including truckloads of raspberries getting turned back from market and dairy businesses dumping thousands of gallons of milk.

Panic-buying and stockpiling by consumers have cleared supermarket shelves of certain foods in the meantime, creating the appearance of a problem. But those shelves are soon restocked, and the frenzy is expected to subside as supply chains adjust and home refrigerators run out of room.

Coronavirus gives Georgia vegetable farmers a tough time
South Georgia farmers may be facing a third tough year, this time because of the coronavirus, and consumers could soon also pay the price.

Greg Fonsah, an agricultural economist with the University System of Georgia, believes foreign seasonal workers will not come because of international travel restrictions and fear as the virus spreads quickly in the US.

Crops will be left to rot in the field and the current overproduction will dry up, he predicted. Farmers, having suffered one loss already, will be hesitant to invest again in planting full fields, so there will be a fresh vegetable shortage and increase in prices.

“The same problem will probably last the whole of this year,” he said. Retailers and the food service industry buy about 90% of Georgia’s vegetables, said Charles Hall, executive director of the Georgia Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association. Nationally the food service industry purchases about 40%, he said. Demand in that segment has plunged as many restaurants, schools and entertainment and sports venues stay shuttered.

Fruit and vegetables impounded during Zimbabwe lockdown
Police have impounded tonnes of fruit and vegetables in Zimbabwe, despite the agriculture sector being flagged as an essential service during the 21-day Covid-19 lockdown.

The state launched a nationwide crackdown that has affected vendors, who constitute a huge chunk of the informal sector.

Vendors and producers have said that the police action on Friday morning will leave most of them counting their losses long after the lockdown. Much of the country's available fruit and vegetables are sold in supermarkets, but are beyond the reach of many Zimbabweans because of the lockdown rules and prices.

Friday was Zimbabwe’s fifth day of the lockdown, but the ministry of health and childcare warned that the period could be extended because people were not taking it seriously.

In Zimbabwe, exporters are also feeling the effects. For those that are manufacturing, some have reduced output due to downtime while others are facing disruption in sourcing raw materials, especially those that are imported.

With regards to exporters, some local enterprises are not able to transport products as they did a few months ago, as travel and other border restrictions are affecting ability to supply products as well as meet buyers.

Kazakhstan to ban export of certain agricultural products
The Kazakh Ministry of Agriculture informed the Eurasian Economic Commission about the introduction of a ban and restrictions on the export of certain agricultural products.

Kazakhstan plans to introduce a ban on the export of the following goods: buckwheat; white sugar; potatoes; onions, shallots, garlic, kurrat and other onion vegetables, fresh or chilled; sunflower seeds, whether or not crushed; sunflower oil; buckwheat.

The Ministry of Agriculture has also announced a planned restriction on exporting carrots, turnips, beets, cabbage, cauliflower, kohlrabi, leafy cabbage and similar edible vegetables of the Brassica genus, fresh or chilled, wheat or wheat-rye flour, wheat and meslin.

The Ministry of Agriculture of the Republic of Kazakhstan emphasizes that these measures are associated with the introduction of a state of emergency in the country.

Indian fruit farmers stare at a loss of Rs 70 billion
The outbreak of Coronavirus and a freeze in the freight and logistics industry that followed the pandemic may lead to a collective loss of almost around Rs 70 bln (around $1 billion) the fruit growing farmers across the country.

For many fruit growing farmers, the time between March and May is particularly joyous as fruits are transported and sold to wholesale markets and from there it reaches the consumers.

The current situation will impact the small acreage farmers more as such farmers take loans for farming. Simply put, they will not be able to repay the crop loan they had taken and may even not have spare money for the next year's season.

Chinese border gates with Shan State closed indefinitely
Both official and unofficial border gates between the northern Shan State townships of Muse and Namkham and China have been closed for travel for the foreseeable future to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Truck drivers stated that on April 1 the Chinese authorities closed all border gates, such as those at Mang Weing, Nandaw, Sinphyu and on village roads.

Muse parliamentarian Sai Kyaw Thein said that he didn’t know when the gates would re-open. “The Chinese authorities do not allow Burmese people to enter into China and they have blocked Chinese people from going to Burma,” he told SHAN. “But the Jin San Jao border gate remains open for border trade between the two countries.”

The shift came as Burma began reporting infections of the pandemic—one of the last countries in the world to do so.

Export of Kashmir apples resumes after 10-day suspension
The export of apples has resumed after it was suspended due to the national lockdown, with owners allowed to send fruit to the different parts of India.

The Directorate of Horticulture has written to the law enforcing agencies about the hassle-free movement of vehicles and employees carrying high-density apple plantation so that the plants would not sprout and result in losses.

According to official figures, around 200,000 apple trees are being imported from different countries to Kashmir while around 300,000 are being transplanted to district-based nurseries since they have been imported last year and put for quarantine. The data also reveals that 150 hectares of Horticulture land are being brought under high density this year.

Manila: Speedy release ordered for reefer containers, dry vans
The Filippino government has sought the adoption of processes to ensure the speedy release of refrigerated containers and dry vans during the Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine.

To decongest the country’s ports, the Department of Finance, Department of Agriculture, Department of Trade and Industry, Bureau of Customs and Philippine Ports Authority signed Joint Administrative Order 20-01 on April 2.

“There is a need to issue clear and coherent inter-agency guidelines to resolve specific issues arising from restrictions imposed under the enhanced community quarantine to prevent congestion at the ports which may unduly cause disruption in the supply chain and impede the availability of basic necessities and essential goods,” the order read.

Borneo vegetable growers record up to 50 pct drop in business
Members of Sibu Vegetable Planters Association (SVPA) are suffering between 40 and 50 per cent drops in their business since the movement control order (MCO) came into effect on March 18.

SVPA chairman Tieu Kiu Sing says this is due to the closure of schools here where its members used to supply daily, and also the limited supply to Sibu Central Market where only a certain number of sellers are operating on rotational basis.

“We also receive no demand from the food stalls and restaurants, which are now closed. As the lives of many have been badly affected by the MCO due to the Covid-19 pandemic, ours are of no exception. However, we do understand that there is no choice as the government is taking the right and timely move, for the safety of everybody."

500,000 tons of surplus vegetables sold in Hubei
A total of 500,000 tons of surplus vegetables in Hubei Province, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in China, have been sold thanks to the coordinated efforts of people across the country, said officials.

Hubei developed an oversupply of agricultural products due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The province was locked down in late January in a bid to stop the further spread of the coronavirus, which severely affected the normal operations and sale of its agricultural products.

With the pandemic starting to ease in China, Hubei lifted transportation restrictions effective March 25, which gave farmers a way to sell their products.

Some of the backlogs have been greatly alleviated, but as the seasons change, the contradictions in the production and marketing of Hubei's agricultural products mainly lie in agricultural products including crayfish, mushrooms and spring tea, said Zhang Guihua, an official with the agriculture and rural department in Hubei.

Malaysian vegetable vendors impacted by MCO
Tanah Rata assemblyman Chiong Yoke Kong is urging the government to ease operating hour restrictions for vegetable vendors to prevent an impact on the food production and supply chain.

Chiong said some of the measures announced and imposed during the movement control order (MCO) period were inconsistent with how real market and supply chain works, causing the vegetable supply in the market to become unstable while food prices were increasing.

He explained that the government’s intention of restricting movement was understandable, but added that it was also imperative to ensure the continuous and stable operation of food production as well as the supply chain ecosystem in order to prevent inflation.

Vietnam exporters urged to prioritise containing COVID-19
The Ministry of Industry and Trade’s Agency for Foreign Trade has urged firms that export goods to China to give the highest priority to preventing the COVID-19 pandemic from spreading further and ensuring the safety of their workers and the public.

The Ministry of Industry and Trade’s Agency for Foreign Trade has urged firms that export goods to China to give the highest priority to preventing the COVID-19 pandemic from spreading further and ensuring the safety of their workers and the public.

Exporters should not make light of preventive measures against the coronavirus because of the pressure to ease the backlog of goods at border crossings with China and boost imports, the agency said in a notice recently sent to local departments of industry and trade, business associations and exporters.

Banana prices have nosedived in India
Banana farmers in the Andhra Pradesh are a worried lot because of the steep fall in the price of their product. The crop is ready for harvest, but there are no takers even for half the price that prevailed a fortnight ago. With no farm workers turning up in the backdrop of COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown that followed, the farmers are keeping their fingers crossed.

Bananas are one of the major horticulture crops in the State. Different varieties of banana are cultivated in an extent of 1,04,953 hectares across the State. The yield is estimated to be 62,97,180 tonnes this year. Kadapa, Anantapur, East and West Godavari districts top the list with the highest area under cultivation.

“Traders are not coming forward on the pretext that there is no market for the produce,” bemoans Bandireddi Damodar Reddy, a farmer, at Mallempudi village of Guntur district.

As per sources, the Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs) had procured 22,000 tonnes so far. Of this, while 18,500 tonnes had been exported, the remainder was sold in the domestic market.

Coronavirus keeps hitting Vietnam’s fruit exports to China
Fruits exports to China in the first quarter fell 29.4 percent year-on-year as the coronavirus pandemic halted trade activities.

Exports to China, the largest buyer of Vietnamese agriculture produce, were worth $300.4 million, as containers of dragon fruit, watermelon, banana, and durian repeatedly piled up at the border due to a lack of Chinese staff to process imports, according to the Department of Farm Produce Processing and Market Development.

Trade has partially resumed, but exports still suffer due to lack of demand, it said. Last year China accounted for 27.8 percent of Vietnam’s agriculture, forestry and seafood exports of almost $8.5 billion.

Vietnam’s overall exports in the quarter fell 10.9 percent despite sharp increases to some markets such as a Thailand and Indonesia. Imports fell almost 30 percent to $294 million, with double-digit drops in purchases from China, Australia and Thailand.

Myanmar plantations and workers suffer due to suspended trade
Plantation owners in Ye Township are experiencing plummeting prices of fruits such as durian, mangosteen, pineapple and melons.  Due to a suspension of trade, other products like rubber and the harvesting of betel nuts are also suffering.

Ye Township has the second-largest population in Mon State, with many residents involved in these industries. There are more than 150,000 acres of rubber plantations, making the township the largest producer in the state.

There are reports of no fresh durian and mangosteen in the city markets. Despite the limited local supply,  traders are only buying these fruits at a low price.

The compulsory quarantine rules are also impacting businesses.  Ko Lwin added, “Because it is compulsory to  stay-at-home, all of my business — the guesthouse, store, and plantation have to be closed. We have to make advance payments for April. If the situation takes longer than this, it will threaten the safety of our family. We have plenty of time to access news as we stay at home. When reading news, we notice that the government has been unresponsive until now,”

Morocco: Agricultural production continues
Morocco’s Ministry of Agriculture, Maritime Fisheries, Rural Development and Water and Forests has affirmed that agricultural activity and production are ongoing despite the health emergency state announced to face the coronavirus outbreak.

“Workers in the sector will maintain the level of production, packaging, transfer and distribution at a normal pace,” the ministry said in a statement on Thursday.

Prices of some goods which witnessed occasional hikes, returned to normal, while the prices of the most consumed food products remained stable, the statement noted. It reassured people that agricultural production will continue normally in full respect for the pre-determined timetable, allowing continued supply to the market and sufficient quantities of agricultural and food products.


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