According to estimates by the agricultural sector, the increase in absenteeism, the drop in hourly productivity, the increase in transport costs and the investments in work safety, among other variables derived from the COVID-19 pandemic, have caused the fruit and vegetable production to become between 25 and 30% more expensive. For this reason, Murcian producers, who recently started the stone fruit campaign, are looking for formulas to compensate for the drop in the profitability of their productions.
Their objectives include making the maximum number of hours that a worker can compute more flexible, as requested to the Government, and to try ensuring that large supermarkets assume the extra costs generated, so that consumers are not affected.
Speaking to Agencia Efe, Fernando Gómez, general director of the Federation of Producers and Exporters of Fruits and Vegetables Proexport, warned that the biggest problem caused by the coronavirus in Murcian agriculture is absenteeism, rather than the lack of labor suffered by other producing areas.
Another factor behind the higher costs is the lower productivity of the companies. This is a result of the safety measures imposed to prevent the spread of the virus, which require greater distances between workers, both in the field and in handling warehouses.
In addition to these limitations, there are also "unproductive hours;" that is, the amount of time devoted to implementing protection measures. "Before the crisis, a worker arrived and entered directly. Now they have to disinfect themselves and put on gloves, a mask, a full suit... and that takes time," says the head of the agricultural producers and exporters.
The federation of producers Proexport, integrated into Fepex, says that the cost of transporting workers to the farms "has increased fivefold," since buses are only allowed to use a third of their capacity, even though the cost of the vehicle and the driver is the same as if it were full.
"Despite all these difficulties and the situation being exceptional, companies and workers are showing their ability to get ahead and meet consumer demands," said the manager of Proexport.