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

Corona-update: USDA to purchase millions in asparagus, tart cherries and other Michigan crops

Today we are looking at the situation in -among other places- the US, where the U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced the purchase of $470 million in surplus food purchases for distribution to communities nationwide. On the logistics side of things, the Federal Maritime Commission has sent a letter to the US Senate last week asking for financial aid. Westfalia Fruit has declared it will team up with Food Lover’s Market for World Hunger Month. From California, there are reports coming in that growers there face 'unprecedented losses'.

In Mexico, Viva Organica (Divine Flavor’s producer of organic specialty crop) has started building additional medical facilities as well as hiring more medical professionals to be available full-time.

The government of the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh government is working hard to create more export options for the regions mangoes. Joining India’s fight against coronavirus, IndiGo has operated three international CarGo flights, to and from Singapore and Maldives.

On a lighter note, India’s 'Mango man' has named new mango varieties in honor of the people who are combating COVID-19.

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

USDA to purchase millions in asparagus, tart cherries and other Michigan crops
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced the purchase of $470 million in surplus food purchases for distribution to communities nationwide. Included in the purchase are $5 million in asparagus, $30 million in pork, $20 million in tart cherries, $120 million in dairy products and $50 million in turkey products.

The USDA said the purchases will provide additional support for producers and Americans in need, in response to changing market conditions caused by the COVID-19 national emergency.

“President Trump has authorized USDA to support our farmers affected by this national emergency and this action to purchase food and deliver to those in need further demonstrates his unwavering support for the American people during these unprecedented times,” said USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue. “America’s farmers and ranchers have experienced a dislocated supply chain caused by the Coronavirus. USDA is in the unique position to purchase these foods and deliver them to the hungry Americans who need it most.”

“The decision made by the USDA to purchase additional asparagus, tart cherries, dairy, pork, and turkey will add much needed certainty for West Michigan farmers and growers,” said Congressman Bill Huizenga. “With this announcement, West Michigan agriculture can play a leading role in increasing food security for families impacted by the coronavirus.”

Westfalia teams up with Food Lover’s Market for World Hunger Month
This World Hunger Month, Westfalia Fruit is partnering with Food Lover’s Market in a very exciting initiative. Food Lover’s Market aims to donate one million meals to Food Forward SA’s food relief campaign during World Hunger Month. With every box of Westfalia avocados sold at Food Lover’s Market during May, a contribution will be made to the Food Forward SA campaign.

On World Hunger Day (28 May), Food Lover’s Market also aims to donate 1% of its turnover to this campaign. Westfalia Fruit is proud to be part of the very important work being done by Food Lover’s Market in providing meals to vulnerable people who may not know where their next meal is coming from.

We believe strongly in supporting the country’s food security objectives by delivering year-round access to safe and nutritious produce. A significant portion of South Africa’s population faces food insecurity, and the Hunger Month initiative will certainly make a difference in the lives of countless needy families. Now more than ever we must work together to build a brighter, more sustainable future for all.

To read more about the campaign, click here.   

Federal Maritime Commission asks US senate for support
The Covid-19 trade downturn is taking an increasing toll on US ports with more calls for aid as container shipping revenue plummets. The Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) sounded the latest alarm with a letter to the US Senate last week asking for help with the “financial gaps that could jeopardise continued healthy operation of the nation’s domestic marine terminal industry and maritime transportation industry.”

The FMC’s letter said marine terminals face a tough time in renegotiating lease payments with local port authorities. Leases for space at landlord ports are typically based on minimum cargo volumes, which are “facing unprecedented headwinds due to disruptions in international trade caused by the Covid-19 outbreak,” the FMC said.

But ports are also constrained in lowering their lease payments due to meeting the needs of their outstanding debt obligations. Moody’s analyst Moses Kopmar, who issued a negative outlook for US port finance in late March, said that ports under his coverage have some US$7.5 billion in outstanding debt.

California: Driscoll’s Mom Community encourages berry families
Driscoll’s employee-based mom community has created a special content series of shared stories, challenges, and tips for how to survive and even thrive during the widespread shelter-in-place resulting from COVID-19.

The content series launched on Driscoll’s Instagram community on Friday, April 3 and each Friday, it highlights a Driscoll’s Mom sharing her experiences in her own words and pictures. The content series will culminate on Mother’s Day with a special montage of photos and quotes from Driscoll’s moms and grandmothers on Driscoll’s Instagram account @driscollsberry.

For thousands of moms everywhere, the collapse of boundaries between work and home life because of COVID-19 has resulted in overwhelming feelings of loss of control. The normal rhythms of life have been upended, including losing childcare, working from home with a household full of energy (a baby, young children, a spouse), and uncertainty about what the future weeks and months will hold.

“For Driscoll’s to be relevant in such a context for our millions of our consumers, we knew we needed to be authentic, candid, compassionate, and supportive,” says Diane Scalisi, Driscoll’s Senior Digital Marketing Manager. “It was time to strip away all the fancy aspirational stuff, and just be real. So we tapped into the experience of the moms within the Driscoll’s employee base to collect stories, challenges, tips, and photos of moms just trying to make it all work.”

Divine Flavor Mexico growers preparing for summer programs
Although the COVID-19 situation in Mexico is not nearly as complicated as it is the US, but the situation is changing quite a bit these days. Mexican farms are doing a tremendous job.

In preparation of the summer program, Viva Organica (Divine Flavor’s producer of organic specialty crop) has started building additional medical facilities as well as hiring more medical professionals to be available full-time as the company aims to dedicate a safe and healthy work environment for all their staff.

In the first week of May, Mexico has reported nearly twenty thousand cases of the Corona-virus, where as its neighbor, the US, has just crossed the million mark of infections, so far. Mexican health officials have already started implementing social distancing guidelines through the country, but they anticipate more spread of the virus in the coming weeks. Although mitigation throughout Mexico started late last month, Divine Flavor producers have been taking precautions since news broke in the US earlier in March.

“Between all the growing locations at Viva Organica, we have over 2,000 employees and it my responsibility to not only provide safe working conditions, but also to make sure all employees feel safe and healthy during these times of uncertainty,” said David Bon, CEO and Founder of Viva Organica.

Viva Organica, having greenhouses in Culiacan, Sayula, and Baja Norte- the company is usually producing its tomato and cucumber line throughout the year, but expects the summer months to be at its peak. “Our greenhouses play an integral role in fulfilling programs we have established with our retailers, which is why our employees need to be cared for even more,” said Bon.

US potato industry welcomes $50 million purchase of potatoes by USDA
The National Potato Council today welcomed USDA’s announcement of a $50 million surplus potato purchase to support the industry during the COVID-19 pandemic. The potato purchase, the largest of all the specialty crop purchases, was part of a $470 million Section 32 food purchase announced by USDA. This purchase is in addition to those previously announced by USDA.

“This is very welcome news from Secretary Perdue, Undersecretary Ibach, and the entire team at USDA. Given the size of the crisis involving potatoes, this purchase is a partial down payment on the industry’s overall relief needs and more will be needed. In the short term, the announcement is very positive in that it provides clarity on the immediate relief efforts and gives family farms hope for more to come,” said Britt Raybould, NPC President.

“Due to mandated shutdowns, the U.S. potato industry has been reeling from an oversupply of processing potatoes left over from the 2019 harvest,” said NPC CEO Kam Quarles.

According to the announcement, The Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) will purchase a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, meat, dairy, and seafood products. These “USDA Foods” will then be provided to USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) nutrition assistance programs, including food banks.

Californian growers face 'unprecedented losses' amid pandemic
Nearly 40% of Monterey County growers reported financial losses related to the shutdown. Faced with a drop in demand, they plowed under lettuce, broccoli, artichokes, cauliflower, cilantro, wine grapes, spinach, arugula and more, according to the Monterey County Agricultural Commissioner's office.

The $8.5 billion dollar agricultural industry has taken a hit during the pandemic as school cafeterias, restaurants and cafés have shut down nationwide. An April survey conducted by the Monterey County Agricultural Commissioner's office showed that vegetable growers are reporting the highest losses so far.

“Changes to the marketplace since the COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders has jeopardized the ability of many farms to remain financially stable, and to date, federal relief programs have offered little in assistance,” Farm Bureau Executive Director Norm Groot said in a county press release. "Specialty crops have been hit hard by changing consumer choices and reductions in restaurant food supply services.”

Of the 186 vegetable and berry growers contacted for the survey, 62% responded. Survey results showed just shy of 3,000 acres in Monterey County were either plowed under or not planted to begin with.  Of the growers who responded, 39% reported losses ranging from 5% to 90%. Nearly 20% of respondents said with demand by the hospitality industry all but gone they disked under crops such as lettuce, broccoli, spinach, cauliflower, wine grapes, artichokes and lemons. Berry growers did not report losses as the season has yet to hit its peak.

Sixty percent of the survey participants pointed to low demand from the food service industry as a factor in their financial losses.

Uttar Pradesh government says mangoes to see hike in export
Another addition to the list of lockdown-hit is the mango yield this year. However, this has failed to defeat the spirit of mango farmers, backed by various state government agencies.

This year, one of those has decided to increase mango export by 16%. Uttar Pradesh produces 65% of the world’s mangoes but exports less than Pakistan (which produces just 5% of global production) because Pakistan has a better export support system in place.

The state produces 4.5 mln tonnes of mangoes per year in its 15 mango belts spread across 13 districts, while the mango belt of Malihabad produces around 700,000 metric tonnes of mangoes per year, out of which, only 840 tonnes are exported, while the rest is consumed locally.

Mandi Parishad director JP Singh said, “Last year, we exported 840 tonnes of mangoes to USA and Europe. This year, we have set a target of exporting 1,000 tonnes of mangoes to Europe and the Gulf countries. This would benefit our mango farmers, who have been affected due to the lockdown.”

IndiGo transports 50 tonnes of pharmaceuticals, fruits & vegetables amidst lockdown
IndiGo has transported over 50 Tonnes of pharmaceuticals, fruits and vegetables from and to Singapore and Maldives. Joining India’s fight against coronavirus, IndiGo has operated three international CarGo flights, to and from Singapore and Maldives.

The IndiGo flights were operated on Mumbai-Male-Mumbai, Trivandrum-Male-Trivandrum on May 2nd, and Mumbai-Bengaluru-Singapore-Mumbai on April 30, amidst a total lockdown. These three flights transported over 50 tonnes of cargo including pharmaceuticals, fruits and vegetables in the belly and cabin. IndiGo has assured that the flights were operated while observing all precautionary measures.

“We have been successfully using our A-320 passenger aircraft in a ‘freighter mode’ helping maintain and support supply chains in and out of the country at this critical time. Having previously operated these CarGo flights to the Gulf region, we have now operated these flights to Singapore from Bangalore and to Maldives from Trivandrum and Mumbai.

Agri exports Philippines reach new markets amid COVID-19
The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) said on Monday said Philippine agricultural exports have already reached new markets. In a statement, DTI said that in the past two months, maiden shipments of avocados arrived in China, cacao in Belgium, and coconut milk in Russia.

DTI-Trade Promotions Group Undersecretary Adbulgani Macatoman said the shipments was due to the combined efforts of the DTI-Foreign Trade Service Corps (DTI-FTSC) overseas, Export Marketing Bureau (DTI-EMB) and the Department of Agriculture (DA).

Philippine avocados officially entered China through a 7.7-ton shipment from the fruit company Dole Philippines. The avocados were shipped from Davao and arrived on the Dole China processing plant in Shanghai last March 31. The avocados will be first sold by Alibaba Group’s supermarket chain Hema Xiansheng and will be available in more stores in the future.

DTI-EMB Director Senen Perlada: “COVID-19 may lead to market access issues and non-tariff measures. It may be more difficult to comply with stricter regulations, certifications, external and domestic regulations. The DTI-EMB commits to assist exporters, especially MSMEs (micro, small and medium enterprises), to comply with these requirements and introduce their products to the world."

'Mango man' dedicates new varieties to Corona warriors
Padamshree Haji Kalimullah Khan, popularly known as 'Mango Man' has named the new mango varieties as `Doctor Aam' and 'Police Aam' as a tribute to the COVID-19 warriors fighting the battle against the disease, he said on Tuesday.

The Mango Man added that as doctors and police personnel have been working tirelessly in the battle against COVID-19, he decided to pay tribute to them in his own way. “I have been watching them on TV channels performing their duties across the country. Some of them have also died in the line of duty.”

Iran resumes exports of fruits and vegetables to Kuwait
Iran has exported its first cargo of fruits and vegetables to Kuwait after the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, Hamid Zadboum, the head of Trade Promotion Organization of Iran, was quoted as saying by Eghtesadonline news website on Tuesday.

The goods have been shipped from Dayyer Port in Iran's Bushehr Province to Kuwait's Shuwaikh Port recently, said Zadboum. The 500-ton shipment was exported using refrigerated containers.

According to Dayyer Port Manager Fazlollah Ahmadi, the shipment was worth 100,000 US dollars. The Fodder and Vegetable Production Bureau with of the Iranian Ministry of Agriculture has announced that vegetables worth more than 1.4 billion US dollars were exported from Iran during the last Iranian calendar year (ended March 19, 2020).

India: Onion farmers in Nashik request government intervention
Onion farmers from Nashik, the  country's biggest onion growing region, are alleging that they are facing financial hardships owing to the nationwide  COVI D-19 lockdown.

"[The] Market Committee told us to bring our yield after packing it  in sacks. It involves a minimum  expense of Rs 100. In addition, there are labour charges, packing and transportation costs too,”

Santosh Navle, a farmer said. "We're earning only Rs 500-600 per 100 kgs (€6.00-7.20) now. But expenses are equally high. Customers are not coming to markets. The price of onions has also fallen. Monsoon season is about to come. Only some farmers have space to store their produce, many don't," he added.

Some farmers also claimed that labour availability is not adequate and warned that their problems will further deepen in the coming days if the government does not provide help.

Another trader at the wholesale market agreed with farmers' sentiments and added that traders were helpless in coming to their rescue. "Farmers are not getting the right prices for their produce. Onion prices are falling due to massive stock arrival. There are also transportation issues for farmers. Until buyers are able to come and purchase we are unable to help," the trader said.

Climate-smart vegetables keep Kashmir fed during crisis
Kashmir’s imports have stalled and many meat sellers around the Himalayan region have shut, explained Abdul Rashid. To fill the empty space on their plates, millions of Kashmiris are turning to vegetables, which local farmers have been supplying in growing abundance over the past 15 years, after adopting new seeds and climate-smart growing methods.

“Our choices are very limited these days,” said a seller at a local market. “As vegetables are mostly produced locally, we get them fresh. And we know where they have come from.”

Since the start of the lockdown, Kashmiris have been consuming large quantities of haakh - a local variant of collard greens - as well as spinach, potatoes and onions, according to the Kashmir Vegetable Dealers Association.

The boost in vegetable production is the result of changes including growing use of greenhouses and rainwater-harvesting systems, said Akhtar Malik, a curator at the University of Kashmir’s botany department.

“Our vegetable production is touching new heights annually. The number of vegetable growers has grown in thousands over recent years,” he said, with over 100,000 people employed if transport and sales jobs are included.

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