Everyone in the food supply chain is meeting new challenges due to the ongoing coronavirus crisis, and seed distributors are no exception; Jacob Van Den Bosch of Van Den Bosch Seeds, located in Canada, explains the unique challenges the company is currently facing.
Travel restrictions prohibit grower visits
The company does a lot of work with the farms that use their seeds: they observe and advise the growers. This is now severely limited, Van Den Bosch shares. “The majority of our business takes place in Mexico. Our biggest product is the snacking pepper, which come in a mix of colors, and about 80% of these are produced in Mexico and the other 20% is produced here in Canada. Due to the precautionary restrictions both in Canada and Mexico, it has become very difficult to travel freely. A big part of our business is visiting different growers to look at their crops and advise them, and that can’t be done at this time, so that is an issue.”
Jacob Van Den Bosch and Ben Van Den Bosch.
Growers hesitate to switch to new seeds
The second challenge is that during uncertain times such as these, people are less likely to try out a new product. “We are a relatively new company – Van Den Bosch Seeds has been an independent business for about 9 years, but we are in our second year selling our own complete product line, where we sell seed from our own seed production using product from our own breeding, and so there is a lot of our product that growers are currently testing. In a situation like the one we are seeing today, people are hesitant to switch over to a new product or new seeds.” The company has been expanding into cucumbers, which has been difficult because of this. “The cucumbers are a relatively new addition to our portfolio, and as a result that creates issues right now,” Van Den Bosch says.
The hesitation to try new seeds lies in the insecurity for what the future might bring. Mexico is not currently planning on providing any economic stimulus to help out growers and, Van Den Bosch adds, “even the trade between Mexico and Canada in the future is unsure, as is the labour situation in Mexico, because travel is heavily restricted."
Tough year ahead
Canada is working on a stimulus package to help their economy, but it isn’t yet clear what this will mean for business owners. “People who are employed by a company are going to receive money from the government, but there isn’t any information available for people who own their own business as of now,” Van Den Bosch says.
The biggest months for the Mexican production are April and May, so the timing for Van Den Bosch Seeds is particularly difficult. “If things don’t open up in a month or two we could be missing out on a significant portion of new sales this season. Though fortunately we had a number of good years, so while there’s a difficult year ahead, we’ll make it through. Of course, there’s a lot less overhead at the moment too due to all the cancelled travel. The most important thing for us right now is to keep the lines of communication open with all our growers, here in Canada, Mexico and the USA, and to be ready to go once it’s possible again.”