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

Corona-update: COVID-19 flaring up at Indian cold storage and fruit and veg markets

This weekend, the number of COVID cases in some parts of India in particular seems to have gone up substantially.  A COVID-19 outbreak at the Koyambedu vegetable and fruit market has led to surge in cases in Andhra’s Chittoor. At the Muhana market, sales have dropped after another seller tested COVID-19 positive and in Kashmir Valley both a hospital and a cold storage unit for apples seems to have turned into COVID-19 hotspots.

As of last week, there was an invitation to Croatian farmers to cooperate in the organisation of the production, purchase, distribution and processing of fruits and vegetables. It was created by connecting several companies, with all of them recognising the great synergy potential.

In the US, Washington apple farmers say an exceptional, high-quality harvest is possible this year thanks to good weather. However, the L&I guest worker rule could severely hamper the farmers’ ability to pick that fruit.

Some industry experts in the US also claim that the current trade restrictions are the wrong way to address food supply issues during the crisis.This news, and more, in today’s Corona-virus update.

Guest worker rule could dampen Washington apple harvest
As the state Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) considers a proposed emergency rule for guest worker housing, Washington apple farmers say an exceptional, high-quality harvest is possible this year thanks to good weather – so far. However, the L&I draft rule as currently written could severely hamper farmers’ ability to pick that fruit.

Washington Apple Commission President Todd Fryhover said in a statement that they “anticipate strong crop quality and excellent color for the year ahead.”

Communications Outreach Coordinator Toni Lynn Adams told Lens this optimism is based on apple blossom count and also the lack of severe frost damage. “Farmers are very dependent on mother nature cooperating.”

The state’s harvest affects not only Washingtonians who enjoy apples but the entire nation as well. Washington growers produce 65 percent of all U.S. apples; the state of New York produces the second most, at 9.7 percent. A third of Washington apples are shipped to 60 markets throughout the world.

However, Adams said there are still many unknowns about this year’s harvest, including how large the volume will be. Because the apple orchards are in a vulnerable phase of growth, poor weather could also reduce both quality and volume. To offset the chance of frost damage, farmers and workers are using wind machines to bring warmer air into lower sections of their orchards.

Alibaba.com's Direct Procurement and Supply Program scores 
Alibaba.com -a leading cross-border B2B e-commerce platform- with the help of the Alibaba Group ecosystem, has pioneered a direct procurement and supply solution that has successfully enabled the sourcing and distribution of nearly 26 million pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare systems and related government authorities outside China.

Alibaba.com is stepping in to provide hands-on customer service to help large-scale commercial buyers -- such as health systems or related government authorities -- who may not be experienced in global trade to successfully identify and make bulk purchases of high quality PPE.

On the supply and logistics side, the Alibaba.com pilot solution involves Tmall Supermarket -- an online grocer and member of the Alibaba ecosystem, to source and verify genuine, high-quality PPE from manufacturers in China who are not equipped to deal with international buyers and Alibaba Group's smart logistics network Cainiao, to streamline the delivery process of urgently needed orders of PPE.

COVID migh improve conditions for Croatian fruit and vegetables
As Jadranka Dozan/Poslovni Dnevnik writes on the 8th of May, 2020, the invitation to Croatian farmers to cooperate is a move from the ENNA Fruit company for the organisation of the production, purchase, distribution and processing of fruits and vegetables. It was created by connecting several companies, with all of them recognising the great synergy potential in the move.

ENNA Fruit has, as such, invited Croatian farmers to cooperate, and that is the title of a press release that was distributed to the media from that company. As we're living in the coronavirus era and we're hearing about more and more companies, associations and businesses needing to further adapt the ways in which they do business in order to stay afloat, such an press release sounds almost like a "routine" announcement, but the story could have more far-reaching consequences and could suggest a significant step forward for Croatia's fruit and vegetable production.

ENNA Fruit is a new company created by connecting the business and interests of Enna Agro and Marinada, and as was pointed out in the aforementioned press release/announcement, this new company is now taking the leading position in the organisation of production, purchase, distribution and processing of fruits and vegetables from Croatia and its immediate region.

Click here to read the full article.

How US farmers & consumers are rising to lockdown challenges
News images from Florida and California showed vegetables rotting in the fields and milk dumped on the ground, while people were lining up at food banks and finding nearly empty shelves at the grocery store.

North Carolina’s produce farmers weren’t forced to make those choices, because they were still transitioning from greens, radishes and other spring crops to summer vegetables. Only a handful of the state’s dairy farmers were forced to dump milk.

But they still faced tough challenges after restaurants, schools, hotels, sports venues and some farmers’ markets closed to slow the spread of the coronavirus. They’ve had to put more money into online sales, deliveries, protective equipment and extra labor.

A recent survey of Triangle farms showed roughly 35% had lost over $1,000 a week to COVID-19 shutdowns, said Roland McReynolds, executive director of the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association. That’s huge for farms with $50,000 to $100,000 in sales a year, he said.

N.C. Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler and others continue to emphasize that COVID-19 cannot be spread through food. Outbreaks that sideline workers at state processing plants are the biggest risk to the nation’s food distribution system, they said.

President Trump also issued an executive order last week ordering meat processing plants to remain open, even as cases among workers are rising. New measures are being implemented at some plants to keep workers safe.

US: Trade restrictions are the wrong way to address food supply issues during the crisis
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many disruptions in the food distribution systems, ranging from health issues in meat and other food processing plants to impacts of lockdown procedures that have disrupted food chain flows.

The resulting disruptions to the food supply chain are borne by consumers in the form of shortages and higher retail prices. They are also affecting many farmers and ranchers who are facing lower farm gate prices and must manage increasing inventories of animals and some crops because of sharply curtailed access to food away from home marketing channels that serve restaurants and institutional buyers such as schools.

While the impacts of trade restrictions may bring short-term benefits to some groups, they are far outweighed by the long term costs and even by adverse short run impacts. A ban on fruit and vegetable imports would raise prices for consumers while benefiting only a relatively small number of farmers. Imports of those commodities enable consumers to enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables year round from countries where most of the imported produce is raised counter-seasonally to U.S. production.

A ban on imports, if prolonged, could lead to sharp decreases in per-capita consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, which would adversely affect nutrition, particularly for lower income families whose spend a disproportionate amount of their budget on food.

COVID-19 outbreak in Koyambedu market leads to surge in cases in Andhra’s Chittoor
The large-scale outbreak of COVID-19 cases in Chennai’s Koyambedu vegetable and fruit market early this week has led to a sudden spike in the number of Corona-positive cases in the border areas of Chittoor district in Andhra Pradesh.

The largest vegetable and fruit market in Chennai, Koyambedu made headlines by accounting for nearly 400 out of the 527 positive cases that were reported on a single day on Monday. Most of the cases are that of workers and vegetable sellers at the market.

In the last two days, as many as 14 positive cases were reported from Chittoor district, including 11 cases in the last 24 hours and a majority of them have emerged from the areas having trade links with the Chennai market.

Rajasthan: Muhana mandi sales drop after seller tests COVID-19 positive
Business at the Muhana mandi has gone down by 35% in the last two days after a papaya seller tested positive on Wednesday. Apart from the papaya seller at the mandi, many vegetable sellers in the city also tested positive for coronavirus creating a fear among people which has affected the sale of vegetables.

Karan Singh Jodha, an official at Muhana mandi, said, maintaining social distancing at the vegetable market is a herculean task. "Business has gone down by 35% to 40% due to the fear of coronavirus. We are, however, trying to maintain social distancing. Earlier, a vegetable seller was allotted three wooden platforms to sell his product. Now, to increase the distancing between the sellers, we have allotted them six platforms. Masks and sanitisers are regularly being provided to them.”

During the lockdown, all businesses have been shut in the city which has increased unemployment rate. Selling vegetables was seen as a silver lining in the time of crisis as this was one of the few professions which were allowed to function. Hundreds of street vendors and people from different professions started selling vegetables that increased crowd at the mandi.

Kashmir Valley hospital & cold storage unit for apples turn COVID-19 hotspots
A hospital and an apple cold storage unit have become COVID-19 infection hubs in the Kashmir valley, as 13 more people tested positive for coronavirus on Saturday, pushing the total to 836.

The hospital, associated with the Government Medical College (GMC), witnessed the death of a 34-year-old attendant on May 7. Three days later, 11 people, including one doctor, two nurses, one sanitation attendant, two patients and five attendants, have tested positive.

“Around 20 staff members have been put in administrative quarantine. A majority of staff has been tested and found negative. Sanitisation of the hospital has been done and the admitted patients have been isolated,” Dr. Salim Khan, head of department, Social and Preventive Medicine and nodal officer for COVID-19, told The Hindu.

At least 14 people, who got in touch with the employees working in a cold storage at Rangreth, have tested positive, forcing a large-scale isolation of workers in the unit. In a statement, a spokesman of the FIL Industries, running the cold storage unit, said a fruit packer from Budgam, who is not an employee of the company, tested positive on May 6.

India: Alphonso mangoes hit by weather & low online sales
If there is one consolation to the demoralising heat of the Indian summer, it’s the sight of the pyramids of mangoes on carts and fruit stalls. It’s approaching midway of the Indian mango season, but for growers of premium and export-oriented varieties such as Alphonso, Safeda, and Banganappalli, among others, there is little joy. Yields were below expectation to start with, a rise in costs dampened moods, and the blight of COVID-19 delivered the coup de grace—distribution, important for a perishable commodity, became difficult. While farmers’ incomes plummeted, consumers end up paying higher-than-usual prices.

“The late monsoon resulted in a lesser yield, which was 50-70 per cent lower for many of us,” says Prasad Subhash Jadav, a grower. He adds, “Due to the lockdown, we did not get good prices for the early-harvested crop.” In Ratnagiri (Maharashtra), which grows the famed Alphonso, orchard owners had to bank on online sales to individuals rather than bulk buyers. Market realities played a ruthless hand: it was difficult to get better prices as local traders knew export prospects were not bright.

Maharashtra orange growers fail to tap into international markets
The ongoing lockdown due to COVID-19 has put a stop to all businesses around the globe, except for essential services. It has primarily damaged an entire season in agriculture and the horticulture sector. But, the story of oranges is an exception. As this juicy fruit contains Vitamin C, essential for increasing immunity in the human body, oranges are still in demand. And orange growers of Maharashtra, mainly from the Vidarbha region, have survived the unprecedented slowdown of economic activity.

Baliram Hiraman Jadhav from Morshi tehsil of Amravati district in Vidarbha is an orange farmer. He has orange trees spread over two acres of his farm land. Generally the period between December and March is the peak season for oranges. This year, Baliram has associated himself with Maha Orange, a federal body of orange growers who help with selling produce in the domestic and international markets.

Last year, Maha Orange arranged for Vidarbha oranges to be exported to Sri Lanka, Dubai and other Gulf countries. So, the farmers got an advance booking this year. Almost 25 containers were booked by Gulf countries and Dubai with one container generally holding between 20 to 24 tonnes of oranges. So, almost 500 tonnes of oranges were booked by the Gulf countries alone. By March 24, Maha Orange sent 20 containers to these countries, but the other five containers stayed back.

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