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

Corona-update: US asparagus farms have been hit hard

When we again take a look at the present situation, the news seems to be somewhat more uplifting day by day. Still, in the US, asparagus farms in San Joaquin County claim they have been hit hard by COVID-19 events. There are also some hard supply and demand lessons for Northwest apple and potato growers.

In France, farmers are relieved as some street markets have been allowed to reopen and squash and kiwifruit exports continue at New Zealand ports. The British NFU, meanwhile, has vowed to back Worcestershire fruit and veg farmers in their struggles. In the Middle East, Citizens of Gaza are launching new sterilization processes for fresh fruit and vegetables.

This, and much more, in our daily Corona-virus update. Enjoy and stay safe.

US: Asparagus farms in San Joaquin County hit hard
With spring in full swing, the San Joaquin Valley is heading into harvest season. But, the first major crop to grow this season, asparagus, has already been stunted by the coronavirus. “It landed right at the start of the season. I mean, right now, with the weather coming out like (on Tuesday), the asparagus would be growing vigorously,” said Tony Noceti.

Noceti is the host of Stockton’s Asparagus Festival. The weekend after next, April 17 to 19, would have marked the 35th annual Asparagus Festival. But for the public’s safety, Noceti pulled the plug.

“It’s unfortunate that it hit at this time,” he said. “With the vendors, and the nonprofit groups and the agriculture, the farmers, all of us are stuck in the middle of this thing.”

Different realities for northwest US potato and apple growers
The coronavirus pandemic continues to make its presence known in all facets of daily life, including agriculture. That extends to some supply and demand economics lessons for Northwest apple and potato growers.

Some of the largest potato processors in the world are dramatically cutting back their contracted acres with farmers this spring. That’s largely because the global pandemic has closed restaurants, and therefore demand for frozen french fries.

This potato crop cut back means big-money-hurt in Washington and Oregon farm country. The Columbia Basin is one of the world’s most productive areas to grow potatoes for frozen fries. But fries are in less demand now that most restaurants are closed or only doing takeout.

Three large processors —  McCain, Lamb Weston and Simplot — have cut back the acreage contracted with farmers. So far, the cuts range from 14 to 50%, and may get even bigger.

French farmers relieved as some street markets reopen
In France, authorities have partially lifted a ban on street markets if they abide by a series of strict social distancing rules. Being unable to sell their produce was a big challenge for farmers whose daily labour has already been adversely affected by the coronavirus outbreak.

New Zealand squash and kiwifruit export continues at port
Eastland Port handled close to 171,700 tonnes of cargo during March despite the introduction of the Covid-19 shutdown. A dozen ships came calling during the month — three squash ships, a kiwifruit ship, six log boats and two cruise ships. A total of 171,693 tonnes of cargo was exported, of which 4541 tonnes of squash and 1396 tonnes of kiwifruit.

Eastland Port is designated an essential service during Alert Level 4. “However, all non-essential operations are on hold,” a port official said “Since the departure of vessel Matakana Island on March 29, there have been no further logging ships in port. “The export of squash and kiwifruit continues as an essential service. Later this week, the Uni Harmony log ship will be anchored in the bay awaiting further instructions on where to proceed to.”

UK: NFU backs Worcestershire fruit and veg farmers
The NFU is looking ahead to ensure Worcestershire farmers can cope should the coronavirus crises extend into the annual harvesting season. Traditionally the county has been a big producer of fruit, salad crops and hops and has relied on hundreds of temporary workers, especially from abroad, to help bring them in, but if travel restrictions are prolonged this labour stream could be cut off.

NFU West Midlands  regional director Robert Newbery said the union was staying in close contact with its extensive network of Worcestershire and Herefordshire farmer and grower members to gather and relay important sector and COVID-19 information.

He added: “Like everybody we are concerned with developments and how the virus is evolving, farmers are feeding into us so we can build up a picture of the impact on their businesses. The industry is resilient and contingency plans are in place to ensure the smooth running of food and farming supply chains, which are absolutely vital at this time.”

Jamaica: St Elizabeth farms hit, but not as badly as suggested
As expected, market demand for agricultural produce, including vegetables and fruit, is declining rapidly in southern St Elizabeth as the COVID-19 pandemic takes a grip. In the case of honeydew melon — which for some reason is not favoured by many Jamaicans — the market has dried up completely following the sudden collapse of the tourism industry.

However, farmers have been quick to dispel “false” information about a glut in watermelon. They voiced extreme annoyance at a television news report suggesting that the popular fruit was in such abundance, it was being fed to hogs.

Davis and fellow melon farmer Gregory Campbell, also of Flagaman, explained that while farmers were “in trouble” falsehoods such as had been aired about watermelon could distort the market, though they conceded that some people found it funny.

Campbell said the media and others needed to recognise that the peak of Jamaica's melon crop is in the summer months of June, July and August.

Onion dumping in the US
On LinkedIn, American grower Shay Myers had his own thing to say about the onion situation in the US:

Florida watermelon farmers face uncertainty
As fruit and vegetable farmers in South Florida decide what to do with produce once destined for now-closed schools and restaurants, watermelon farmers in North Florida have recently finished planting their crop.

Given the uncertainty around the market for fresh produce, the decision to plant came down to economics, said Mark Warren, agriculture agent for UF/IFAS Extension Levy County. “For many, this crop represents a large portion of their annual income, and they have already invested in land rent, tillage, fertilizer, seed, transplant costs, irrigation and plastic mulch,” Warren said.

Watermelons are an important part of the economy in Levy and surrounding counties. According to the 2017 USDA Census of Agriculture, Levy County has the largest acreage of watermelons in the state, with Gilchrist a close second. More than 20% of the state’s watermelon crop is produced in these two counties.

Indian government agencies step in to help banana farmers
Government agencies have stepped in to help farmers growing red banana who are struggling to find markets for their yield due to the COVID-19 lockdown. Both the Kerala State Horticultural Products Development Corporation (Horticorp) and the Vegetable and Fruits Promotion Council Keralam (VFPCK) have included red bananas in their vegetable and fruit kits that are being sold online.

Known locally as kappa pazham, the red variety finds takers mostly in Thiruvananthapuram and Kollam districts. However, the COVID-19 epidemic dealt a blow to the farmers this year. The variety is grown in agriculturally rich regions such as Neyyattinkara, Nedumangad and Kattakada in Thiruvananthapuram, a district known for banana cultivation.

Horticorp and the VFPCK have procured around three tonnes of the red banana so far in the district. “We are stepping up procurement. We have also included it in the fruit kits supplied in Ernakulam,” said J. Sajeev, Managing Director, Horticorp, adding that Horticorp was planning to step up procurement.

India: How Ninjacart ensures a steady supply of fruit and veg
The nationwide lockdown to combat the coronavirus epidemic has frozen India’s entire supply chain infrastructure, disrupting the delivery of daily essentials like vegetables and fruits. In such trying circumstances, agritech startup Ninjacart is keeping its wheel running with quick thinking and innovations on the fly. The Bengaluru-headquartered startup, which supplies horticulture produce like vegetables and fruits to retail outlets and others across the country, has been able to keep up its deliveries even as each day throws up new challenges. In a conversation with YourStory, Thirukumaran Nagarajan, Co-founder and CEO of Ninjacart – popularly known as Thiru – says, “Every day is now a war and the situation has become very hectic as we have a skeletal operation.”

Backed by investors such as Walmart, Flipkart, Tiger Global, and Accel, among others, Ninjacart has, over the last five years, expanded its operations across India, delivering 1,500 tonnes of fruits and vegetables every day. However, the situation is now completely different as there is a greater focus on how one can enable the supply when nobody is sure which part of the network will be operational.

Gaza launches new sterilization process for fresh fruit and veg
Palestinians in Gaza have launched a new sterilization process for fresh fruit and vegetables in an effort to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus. The new system allows all fresh produce to be vacuum-packed and sealed in a sterilized environment without human intervention.

The few staff members at the plant enter the area through a specially created passage which cleanses them using steam and disinfectant sprays. They then wear hazmat suits, gloves, masks and goggles before beginning work. The staff then transport the items to the consumers and local markets.

The new passage is mobile and can be transferred to any new facility and may be rolled out to other industries in Gaza. To ensure the system continues to operate in spite of the continuous power failures experienced in the Strip, the device operates using batteries.

Congressman advises to procure mangoes and oranges from Indian farmers
Congressman Komatireddy Venkat Reddy on Tuesday wrote to Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao, urging him to procure the produce of mango and orange farmers. “Farmers cultivating oranges and mangoes are in distress. The CM had recently said that mangoes and oranges contain Vitamin C and that they would boost one’s immunity. However, the government has failed to support these farmers,” he said.

BJP State chief and Karimnagar MP Bandi Sanjay Kumar also urged the State government to procure oranges and lemons. On Tuesday, he said, “Orange and lemon farmers have been facing a tough time transporting their produce to Nagpur in Maharashtra.”

Tamil Nadu horticulture department to launch 500 vans selling vegetables and fruits
Tamil Nadu chief minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami has made a slew of announcements for agriculture sector to ensure uninterrupted supply of essential commodities, including the launch of 500 vegetable and fruit vans in urban areas to sell produce of members of collective farming.

In a statement, the chief minister said the government would not collect storage charge from farmers, who avail its cold storage units until April 30. "The units are functioning to help the public get uninterrupted supply of goods and for the welfare of farmers. Considering the prevailing situation and foreseeing an increase in mango production in a fortnight, the storage charge will not be collected. The government will bear the cost," Palaniswami said.

Wuhan farmers struggle as crops wither due to travel limits
Chinese leaders are eager to revive the economy, but the bleak situation in Huangpi in Wuhan's outskirts highlights the damage to farmers struggling to stay afloat after the country shut down for two months. Authorities are easing travel controls after declaring victory over the virus, but flowers and some other crops deemed nonessential are withering while farmers wait for permission to move them to market.

Most transportation in and around Wuhan, a city of 11 million people in central China's Hubei province, was suspended Jan. 23 to fight the coronavirus. Trucks carrying food supplies deemed essential were allowed through.

The final restrictions on residents of Wuhan leaving the city were due to be lifted Wednesday, but farmers and companies still are working to restore supply chains that carry food to crowded cities and raw materials to factories.

The impact of Covid-19 on global shipping
The rapid spread of coronavirus has had a major impact on global shipping markets, with the slump in demand for goods from China having a ripple effect on everything from container ships to oil tankers. In part 1 of our coronavirus special, we look at how it has unfolded so far.

Ship-technology.com gives a great insight into the current situation.

South Korea set to cope with global food shortage
Massive lockdowns imposed around the world to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus have drastically slowed down international trade and food supply chains. This led three related international agencies to warn of a potential global food shortage if the coronavirus crisis is not managed properly. South Korea is also looking at ways to cope with a possible global food shortage.

"Uncertainty about food availability can spark a wave of export restrictions, creating shortages in the global market," said the joint statement signed by the heads of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation, the World Health Organisation and the World Trade Organisation.

Australian government will help get essential imports
Efforts are underway to speed-up border clearance of imported groceries during the coronavirus crisis, with the Australian government working with supermarkets and their brokers to bring about better outcomes.

The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment says it is placing “dedicated people” within its import assessment, bookings and inspection functions to enable faster clearance of critical supplies. This has been developed via consultations with the major retailers as part of the Australian government’s Supermarkets Taskforce.

Head of biosecurity Lyn O’Connell said the department is completing inspections as quickly as possible: “Dedicated staff will prioritise these applications so we can get product on the shelves quicker to complement Australia’s supply of quality fresh food produced from all parts of the country.”

How your diet can strengthen your immune system
As the coronavirus situation intensifies, you might be wondering: how can I keep myself healthy? And will swallowing a pill protect me from getting sick?

First, there's the not-so-great news. Despite claims you may have seen on the Internet, there's no magic food or pill that is guaranteed to boost your immune system and protect you against coronavirus.

"There are no specific supplements that will help protect against coronavirus and anyone claiming that is being investigated by the FTC [Federal Trade Commission] and the FDA [Food and Drug Administration]," said Melissa Majumdar, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

But there's uplifting news, too: There are ways to keep your immune system functioning optimally, which can help to keep you healthy and give you a sense of control in an uncertain time. These include proper handwashing, maintaining good nutrition, being physically active, meditating and managing stress and getting adequate sleep.

Morocco's agricultural activities continuing as usual
The Moroccan Ministry of Agriculture reiterated the government's guarantees that the national market will be supplied with the necessary food as usual during the COVID-19 crisis.

Production and agricultural activities will continue regularly, according to the pre-established schedule, the ministry said in a statement today.

Operators in the agricultural sector at the production, packaging, processing and distribution levels  maintain a normal rhythm of activity, the ministry emphasized. The ministry acknowledged that the prices of certain food products experienced brief increases, but have returned to normal.

Agro-food products for mass consumption remain stable, the ministry said. Rotations of crops for consumer vegetables such as tomatoes, onions and potatoes, for which production is underway, continue as usual.

The ministry assured citizens that the crops "will largely cover the consumption needs of these products during the months of April and May."


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