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

Corona-update: Belgium struggles with absent workers and closed markets

In today’s somewhat shorter COVID-19 update, we are looking at farmers in Belgium who struggle with absent workers and the closed markets. The Tasmanian government has unveiled a $3 million package to support around 26,000 temporary visa holders stuck in the state because of the pandemic. The Baltic nation of Estonia could soon see a rise in fruit and vegetable prices due to labor shortages.

In the US, in Washington State, at an isolated East Wenatchee site, 36 fruit workers tested positive for COVID-19 over the weekend. Eight Wisconsin agriculture groups have asked Governor Tony Evers to direct 50-million federal CARE Act dollars to direct farmer payments, while in Florida, crop losses may exceed $522.5 million through mid-April.

In India, the export of vegetables and fruits from state of Karnataka to other countries is expected to resume within a week, while Uttar Pradesh mango growers want state procurement to tide them over.

Belgian farmers struggle with absent workers & closed markets
Farmers across Europe are looking out at ripening crops in a world changed by measures designed to stem the spread of the virus.

Grower Luc Warnez is very clear on the two issues threatening his business since the coronavirus outbreak - who will pick the strawberries in his fields and who will eat them? “There are two big problems. The workers cannot come because of confinement, including some from abroad. The second issue is that markets are shut and that’s where our strawberries would normally be sold.”

Warnez would normally have 40 workers busy across his 15 hectares of fields during the harvest’s high season in May and June, 25 typically coming from Spain. They will not be arriving this year.

Temporary visa holders Tasmania get $3m package for financial hardships
The Tasmanian Government has unveiled a $3 million package to support around 26,000 temporary visa holders stuck in the state because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Visa holders who can demonstrate immediate financial hardship will be eligible for $250 for individuals, and $1,000 for families. Premier Peter Gutwein said it was "only fair" to support people who had contributed to the state's economy.

The third stage will include financial support and travel advice for workers who can return to their home country, and the fourth will help employers retain workers if they must remain in the state.

Washington State: Dozens of Stemilt fruit workers test positive
At an isolated East Wenatchee site, 36 fruit workers tested positive for COVID-19 over the weekend. The testing was done in coordination with Confluence Health. COVID-19 tests were done on a total of 71 team members, half of whom tested positive for the disease. This was the first wide-scale test done in Chelan and Douglas County. Health officials say all 71 subjects were asymptomatic.

“Our essential business of growing fruit to feed people would not be possible without our frontline team members,” said West Mathison, Stemilt president. “We are doing all that we can to ensure our team members are well-cared for while in isolation.”

Stemilt says it has proactively followed Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommendations for spacing, hygiene, and social distancing in its work processes. Its executives say they don’t know who was initially exposed to coronavirus or how they were exposed.

Florida crop losses may exceed $522.5 million through mid-April
Florida is currently the nation’s second-largest producer of seasonal specialty crops such as blueberries, strawberries, tomatoes, cucumbers, and more. As the demand for fresh produce dwindles across the state of Florida, the demand for fresh produce has plummeted causing major losses for farmers.

According to a newly released report, total crop losses across the state through mid-April 2020 may exceed $522.5 million as large-scale buyers including restaurants, school districts, food processing facilities, and others order less product.

Florida is currently the nation’s second-largest producer of seasonal specialty crops such as blueberries, strawberries, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and more.

State of Karnataka: Export of fruits & vegetables may begin soon
The export of vegetables and fruits from the Indian state of Karnataka to other countries is expected to resume within a week, according to an official communique. The release states that about 220 tonnes would be sent on a weekly basis.

Exports had come to a standstill after the outbreak of COVID-19. Exporters are concerned that the cargo prices have gone up. Meanwhile the problems of exporters and farmers were discussed by Horticulture Minister Narayana Gowda with Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa on Tuesday.

The release says that the State is expected to take up the matter with the Union Civil Aviation Minister through the Chief Minister to get clearance for exports.

The vegetable and fruits from the State are expected to be sent to about 10 countries including England, U.S., Australia and Singapore if permission is granted.

Uttar Pradesh mango growers want state procurement to tide them over
With the prices of popular mango varieties of alphonso and kesar dwindling due to the coronavirus-induced lockdown, the growers of another famous variety, dussehri, have knocked at the doors of the Uttar Pradesh government for relief.

In a letter to UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, Mango Growers Association of India has demanded a slew of urgent measures to protect state mango farmers, on the lines of growers of alphonso and kesar varieties, which are primarily grown in Maharashtra and Gujarat, respectively, from economic losses.

Estonia: Fruit and veg prices could rise due to labor shortages
Food prices, especially for fruits and vegetables, could rise soon due to labor shortages and the restrictions place around season workers during the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, the Chamber of Agriculture and Commerce said. Meat prices are not expected to change and the price of milk has fallen.

Ülo Kivine, Member of the Management Board of Tere and Farmi dairy industry, said it is too early to predict price changes in the dairy sector. "As the inertia of raw material and finished product prices in dairy is very high, it is too early today to say what the new reality will be, it must be shown in the coming months," he said.

Wisconsin agriculture groups ask governor to direct 50-million to direct farmer payments
Eight Wisconsin agriculture groups have asked Governor Tony Evers to direct 50-million federal CARE Act dollars to direct farmer payments.

Joe Bragger is the President of Wisconsin Farm Bureau. He tells Brownfield, “What we’ve pledged to do is to work with the Governor and work with our Department of Ag, Trade, and Consumer Protection and really provide some numbers to spell out how bad it is for the farmers out here and the economic losses that we’ve experienced.”

Bragger says they’ve provided the Governor with the numbers from each Wisconsin ag sector to show him the need for direct payments. “To really help to show, again, the losses agriculture is experiencing and we don’t want agriculture or our farmers left out of this.”


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