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

Corona-update: Fruit & vegetable prices soar from Costa del Sol to Costa Blanca

Of all the COVID-19 related news, today we are highlighting the plight of French growers, suffering from the current restrictions, the soaring fruit & vegetable prices on the Spanish east coast and how Australian fruit and vegetable stores might be reclaiming some ground from that nation’s supermarkets. On a lighter note, there is three-time Guinness World Record holder Kevin Fortey who now wants to feed an entire street in the UK.

In Canada, Nature Fresh Farms has issued a press release with a short clip, thanking the nation’s fresh food heroes, while the pandemic still affects food imported from Mexico into the US. Greek fruit exporters claim their sales are booming as people turn to healthier products and in the United Arab Emirates, growers also see an opportunity in the lockdown.

This news, and much more, in today’s Corona-virus update.

French growers suffer from COVID-19 restrictions
The local markets in France that are so much a part of life in many parts of Europe are now closed because of the coronavirus, while borders have been closed to the seasonal workers who normally fill the fields.

In the village of Cailloux- Sur- Fontaines, near Lyon, we meet Mickael Bourguignon, who runs his family business on a 120-hectare farm. Bourguignon's grandfather started the farm with just hens, but in 1981 they switched to growing vegetables, and now sell to supermarkets as far away as Marseilles.

Bourguignon depends on farmhands from Poland to work the land, and when European borders were closed to stop the spread of the coronavirus, he suddenly lacked staff.

In early April the European Commission called upon member states to facilitate the travel of seasonal farmhands between countries, as this shortfall in staffing began to hit growers across western Europe.

Fruit & vegetable prices soar from Costa del Sol to Costa Blanca
Fresh food prices for Spain’s citizens have soared since the country’s lockdown started with some products doubling, if not tripling in price, according to a report in Malaga Hoy.

Most people have probably noticed that the cost of their average weekly food shop has gone up since the Covid-19 lockdown, particularly the cost of fresh produce, such as meat and fruit and vegetables. However, fruit and vegetables have seen some of the biggest price hikes.

The price of mandarins, for example, has shot up by around 46 per cent in March, compared to the month before. The cost of fruit, such as bananas has also gone up by around 12 per cent. However, according to COAG, the country’s coordinator for agriculture and farming, oranges have seen a whopping price increase of 574 per cent (from the farm to the consumer’s table).

The cost of vegetables like broccoli and certain types of mushrooms have actually tripled in price. Other vegetables that have seen price increases include carrots, cabbage and aubergine, which have shot up by about 22 per cent.

UK grower of giant vegetables wants to feed his entire street
A three-time Guinness World Record holder who won the awards for growing super-sized vegetables is now using his secret power to feed an entire street during the coronavirus lockdown.

After seeing empty shelves as citizens stockpiled before the lockdown started, green-fingered Kevin Fortey vowed to use his massive cabbages and carrots to feed his community. He's feeding up an enormous three-and-a-half stone beetroot in his greenhouse so he can dish out a massive slice to every member of his street in the coming weeks.

And he's been taking the seeds harvested from his award winning huge carrots, radishes, onions lettuce, aubergines, tomatoes, beetroot, runner beans, peas, parsnips and cabbages and giving them away to neighbours. He's been sharing insider secrets on how to plant them, in the hopes his neighbours will have bountiful harvests of their own vegetables in a matter of four to five weeks.

Australian fruit and veg stores might be reclaiming ground from supermarkets
While the impact of COVID-19 has hit fruit and vegetable vendors hard, the flexibility available to smaller operators has allowed the independents to give the big operators a run for their money. In many instances, less is proving to be more, with independents able to sidestep some of the logistical problems the heavyweight supermarket chains are experiencing.

Local fruit and vegetable outlets are thinking on the feet, moving quickly to online ordering, social distancing at point of sale, and daily home deliveries of fresh produce.

Nature Fresh Farms thanks fresh food heroes in video
Nature Fresh Farms has issued a press release with a short clip, thanking Canada's fresh food heroes: "During difficult times, we all gain a greater appreciation for the heroes serving our communities and keeping people safe. But no one can keep serving without being served. Farm workers deserve our thanks because, in the midst of uncertainty, they’re ensuring our food system remains strong. Thank you to the farm workers – some of the most inspiring fresh food heroes around."

COVID affects food imported from Mexico into US
COVID-19 has caused the near-shutdown of the US-Mexico border. However, fruits and vegetables from south of the border are still being imported into Arizona and are re-distributed by produce warehouses in Nogales.

The pandemic has had a tremendous effect on the industry that brings fruits and vegetables imported from Mexico into the USA.

Unfortunately, because of the slowdown in the restaurant industry, many of the fruits and vegetables imported into the USA aren't being sold. It's having a drastic effect on the produce industry in Southern Arizona.

Australia: Fruit and vegetable producers offer direct sales
Farmgate sales are increasing and fruit and vegetable producers are reinventing their supply routes after COVID-19 forced the closure of the hospitality industry nationwide. Avocados, melons, lime and papaya are among the commodities hardest hit in North Queensland as cafes and restaurants remain shuttered.

Far North Queensland growers president Joe Moro urged to federal government to offer a lifeline to the horticulture sector. "The market for some produce including the bottom end of the for avocadoes, limes, melons and papayas has been lost, as a consequence of the forced closure of some sections of the hospitality trade. We are also receiving reports of price reductions in some fresh food markets as household budgets are impacted and consumers are electing not to buy foods they consider luxuries, leading farmers to leave to produce in the field."

Moro said while industry was confident there would be a steady and stable supply of fresh fruit and vegetables to feed Queensland, it was imperative that plans are in place to help support growers financially.

UK wholesalers find lockdown is their time to shine
With the coronavirus crisis forcing cafes, restaurants and pubs to close, food wholesalers have switched to selling to the public. As the fourth week of lockdown begins, supermarkets are still running out of some products, delivery slots are all but snapped up and restaurants, pubs and cafes remain closed.

But one type of food retailer is finding that this is their unlikely moment to shine – the humble wholesale warehouse. Largely unnoticed by the general public, in normal times an army of refrigerated vans belonging to around 30 Scottish wholesalers criss-cross the country daily to supply the nation’s restaurants, hotels, cafes, schools, care homes and oil rigs.

Now, with up to 80% of their usual trade disappearing overnight and large quantities of stock languishing in store rooms, some wholesalers in the north of Scotland and Tayside have turned their attention to home deliveries, with varying degrees of success.

It’s been described as a win-win, allowing them to stay afloat and keep employing staff during a global crisis, while households are able to get food delivered in as little as 24 hours.

Greek fruit exports boom as people turn to healthier products
In Greece, one agricultural sector seems not only to be emerging from the crisis without a scratch; its business is now profiting from a shift in consumers’  buying choices as well.

According to a statement issued recently by Incofruit – Hellas, the Hellenic Association of Fruit, Vegetable and Juice Exporters and Processing Companies, the exports of fresh fruit and vegetables in Greece are enjoying a high sales trajectory at the moment.

Greece’s producers of kiwi fruit in particular are expected to see a record-breaking year regarding the quantity of their exports. Additionally, agricultural firms that produce oranges, as well as apples, lemons, cucumbers, strawberries, mandarin oranges and other vegetables and fruits, are seeing a hike in the numbers of tons their businesses export.

In another positive development for the agricultural sector, domestic consumption of these same fruits and vegetables in Greece has grown as well. People are apparently turning to healthier options, and leaving red meat and perhaps even dairy behind, in order to find sources of Vitamin C and other immune-boosting nutrients during the current pandemic.

California strawberry industry could see a 30% revenue loss
Officials say the uncertain period for the industry rests on whether shoppers continue to purchase the product at grocery stores. California produces 88 percent of the country's strawberries, but the industry is facing economic uncertainty with restaurants closed and shoppers more interested in products that last longer, such as canned goods.

"We're hitting this major peak of coronavirus about the same time that we start to hit our peak of production that we could see up to a 30% loss within that six week period," said Carolyn O'Donnell with the California Strawberry Commission.

O'Donnell says 15% of the strawberries grown in California are purchased by the food service industry. There's roughly 400 strawberry farms in the state with a workforce in the fields of up to 40,000 people, since strawberries have to be hand-picked.

Strawberry pickers in growing fields in places like Monterey, California have been seen working while practicing physical distancing. With demand continuing to drop, their jobs could also be in jeopardy if action isn't taken.

India: Change of marketing style saves Kalaburagi grape grower
During lockdown crisis, an innovative Kalaburagi grape grower is delivering the produce directly at the doorsteps of consumers An idea mooted by an agricultural scientist coupled with cooperation from the administrative apparatus has saved a farmer from the heavy losses that he would have incurred because of countrywide COVID-19 lockdown.

Lachhappa S. Jamadar, a farmer from Afzalpur, had grown grapes on his 6-acre plot following organic farming method and the yield was very good. His expectations of a nice profit were shattered with the imposition of nationwide lockdown to fight the coronavirus.

Luckily, an idea of directly approaching the end users instead of employing middlemen mooted by Raju Teggelli, an entomologist attached to Kalaburagi’s Krishi Vigyan Kendra, changed it all. With the idea, the farmer approached Kalaburagi Deputy Commissioner B. Sharat who responded positively and directed the Horticulture Department officers to help him out. The farmer got permission to carry the crop in his vehicles and deliver it to the consumers at their doorsteps.

UAE farms see opportunity in lockdowns
As coronavirus lockdowns crush businesses around the world, high-tech farming projects in the United Arab Emirates are eyeing large growth as authorities plough funds into agritech projects.

The desert Gulf Arab states, which rely on food imports for 80-90% of local demand, have for years spent billions of dollars on agricultural investments outside their borders in a quest for food security. But as the fast-spreading virus piles pressure on global food supply chains and agricultural producers threaten export curbs, local producers hope they can now play a bigger role.

“Locally farmed produce are now in more demand, whereas food imports are negatively impacted with closure of borders and airports,” Omar al-Jundi, CEO of Dubai-based vertical farming business Badia Farms, told Reuters.

Expensive programmes to increase food output in the region have in the past struggled to cope with the hot climate and lack of water. But the Gulf region’s petrodollars put it in a position to take risks with new technologies that are capable of commercialising crops using significantly less water in harsh environments.

India: Rain hits vegetable fields Assam
Farmers in Assam are struggling to supply vegetables to people in their respective districts amid the nationwide lockdown as unseasonal bad weather is damaging their crops. Many districts in the state are completely dependent upon intra-district production of vegetables as the government has ordered indefinite ban on inter-district movement of vegetable carriers to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Agriculture minister Atul Bora is monitoring the demand and supply chain of agricultural produce in the state, a government release said.

Farmers across Assam had expected a record crop this year but the unfriendly weather conditions and the unprecedented lockdown have robbed them of the chance to reap profits. There are no daily wage workers to help with harvesting, almost no transport facilities in many areas and, above all, no storage facilities.

Zimbabwe: Mutare decentralises main farm produce market
The city of Mutare has decentralised the operations of the giant Sakubva wholesale market to other high-density areas as a measure to decongest the area and help curb the spread of Covid-19.

Sakubva Wholesale market serves farmers from across the province who bring their horticultural produce for sell but it has been also identified as a hotspot for the possible spread of the pandemic as locals normally throng the area to purchase cheap goods.

The opening of the new markets also follows an outcry by farmers after police confiscated and destroyed their vegetable produce on accusations of contravening government’s lockdown regulations.

Shanghai to support rapidly developing fresh fruit E-commerce
The Shanghai Municipal Commission of Commerce (SMCC), said that after the COVID-19 outbreak , e-commerce promoted the transformation of residents' consumption methods and the way of business operations with the advantage of online Innovation.

Recently, many businesses transformed their business models and established a wide range of cloud activities such as shopping, exhibitions, and fashion shows. And with success.

The number of online consumers increased significantly. In particular, the number of users over the age of 40 is growing rapidly, and middle-aged and elderly are also getting used to placing orders online through smartphones. The SMCC also expressed that they want to accelerate the digitalization of several leading e-commerce platforms through their "Shanghai Action Plan for Promoting the Development of an Online New Economy."

Sabah to export vegetables to neighbouring Brunei
Sabah is looking to export its vegetables to neighbouring Brunei to manage the glut under the movement control order (MCO). Chief Minister Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal said that there was an oversupply of vegetables and fish in the state which could be sent to Brunei.

“Brunei has communicated with us and they are facing a shortage of fish and vegetables there. I’ve spoken to Wisma Putra and told them that rather than leave the produce to waste, we should send it over to them and help them,” he said during the question and answer session at the State Assembly sitting today.

He said that he was aware of the imbalance of demand and supply for perishable goods in the market due to the MCO and his ministry had taken various steps to address it.

“We are trying to channel the excess supply from Kundasang and Ranau to places which need it. I have asked the Agriculture and Food Industries Ministry to engage with supermarkets and hypermarkets. We will reach places which need it,” he said.

Taha pleads with Kenyan government to ease horti permits
The Kenyan government has been requested to issue landing permits of between 3-6 months and also lower airports charges by 50 percent to allow smooth horticultural produce exports from Kilimanjaro International Airport to European markets.

Taha Group CEO, Dr Jacqueline Mkindi said currently the landing permits are issued for each incoming flight with routine airports charges imposed hence making it not only operationally cumbersome to apply, but also uncompetitive during the COVID-19 crisis.

Dr Mkindi said at Kilimanjaro International Airport over the weekend after successfully bringing a second Ethiopian Airlines cargo plane to airlift high-value perishable commodities to overseas markets, the state need to support the hard currency earning industry by addressing such challenges.

This all means that a strategy, intended to revive the country's horticultural industry with direct export of flowers, fruits and spices, will soon be unveiled.

It seeks to change the current situation whereby most horticultural produce from the Kilimanjaro and Arusha regions is sent abroad via Kenya and counted as belonging to the neighbouring country.

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