May 5, 2020

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

Lockdown India extended for two more weeks
The national lockdown in India has been extended beyond 4 May for another two weeks. New guidelines, outlined on Friday, update the country’s designated red, green and orange zoning system.

Red zones are considered hotspots, while considerable relaxations will be permitted in areas considered less dangerous. India has been under lockdown measures since 24 March, with more than 35,000 cases confirmed nationally.

A new home ministry statement, outlining the extension until 18 May, said there had been “significant gains in the Covid-19 situation”. But Friday saw a record number of new cases added to the nation’s official tally. At least 1,100 are known to have died from the virus in India, but many believe the true number of infections and deaths is far higher than what has been reported.

The outbreak has caused large economic disruption across the country, with many labourers deprived of income and millions of migrant workers left stranded in economic hardship.

Quarantine zones
Areas will be classified as green zones if they have had no confirmed cases for 21 days, according to the guidelines. All of India’s major metropolitan areas remain classified as red zones and will stay under strict lockdown measures. All of the zone classifications have been described as “dynamic” and will be updated weekly, officials say.

India’s lockdown is the largest of its kind in the world, impacting a population of 1.3 billion people.

COVID-19 creates uncertainty for Northwest US family farms
If this were a normal year, brother and sister Jeff Liepold and Michelle Krummenacker from Liepold Farms in Boring, Oregon, would be tending the grounds and preparing for early May harvest, just as their parents and grandparents did before them. But as with many things in the era of COVID-19, this year is far from normal.

For the first time in this third-generation family farm, it’s not clear if the migrant workers who harvest strawberries each spring will be allowed to travel north from California to work the fields. And if those fieldworkers do arrive, Krummenacker said, the family does not know how it will sell its prized Hoods this year — or whether one of the farm’s biggest customers will still be buying its other Oregon-grown fruits.

Across the Pacific Northwest, small and mid-sized farms are grappling with a range of challenges brought about by the novel Corona-virus.

In eastern Washington, potato farmers are planting less as demand for restaurant French fries evaporates, and apple growers are worried about a drop in overseas exports. In Hood River, Oregon, tree fruit farmers have led Spanish-language training on social distancing and they’re worried about selling this year’s harvest. And at a dryland wheat farm near Helix, Oregon, the owner said he’s in better shape than many of his peers, with almost no impact from COVID-19.

The good news for Northwest consumers: Despite all the uncertainty affecting growers across the region, experts say the food supply is sound, with growers in California and Florida reporting abundant crops.

Lockdown trick: Celery hack to keep bread fresh longer
A mum has revealed a handy lockdown hack to keep a loaf of bread fresh, days after you would usually be forced to throw it away – and all you need for it is one stick of celery Since the start of lockdown, Brits are trying to be a little more conscious of how much food they’re buying and how to make it last a little longer.

Although freezing your food – like cheese, milk and butter – is a viable option while it’s still fresh, one mum has explained how you can keep your bread fresher for longer – even after the use-by date.

The savvy mum said that she had run out of room in her freezer and since she didn’t want to waste the loaf of bread she had leftover, needed to find a way to keep it as fresh as she could for as long as possible.

After doing a little digging, she found out that a stalk of celery could solve her problem. She took to the Facebook group Feeding a Family on £1 a Day to share the hack and said: “I watched a YouTube video and it said if you put a stick of celery in the bag it keeps the bread fresher for longer so tried. Just finished the last slices off and the bread was fine and it was dated the 19th of April – so 10 days out of date.”

Apparently, the bread soaks up all of the moisture from the celery which stops it drying out; quite handy.

Demand for fruit and veg boxes increases in Wales
Fruit and vegetable farms are thriving during the Corona-virus crisis as many people shift from supermarket shopping to veg boxes and home-deliveries.

Tyfu Cymru, which supports commercial growers in Wales, said innovative moves by small and medium-sized farms have met the needs of anxious customers. A recent survey found most growers had seen “dramatic increases in demand”.

The survey of fruit and vegetable growers in Wales, conducted by Peas Please, Tyfu Cymru and Cardiff University, highlighted that producers across Wales responded quickly to find alternative sales routes, with many diverting from catering trade to home deliveries.

When asked about planned changes to production in response to the crisis, 73% said they had changes planned or under way, which included introducing box schemes, increasing production and changing crops or varieties grown.

New Zealand agri sector in a strong position to reboot economy
Strong international demand for New Zealand’s food, despite the global effects of COVID-19, could help provide a springboard to get more New Zealanders into primary sector jobs, said Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor.

He says the latest provisional trade statistics show our apples and kiwifruit continue to be star performers, with $890 million of fruits exported between 1 February and 22 April 2020. He says our dairy and meat sectors are also holding their own into April and they shipped products to overseas customers worth $6.18 billion over the same period.

O’Connor says there is no shortage of demand for our high quality product but says we now need a skilled workforce to help us seize the opportunities that are currently before us. He says the primary sector will need about 50,000 more people in a post-Covid-19 world.

Coronavirus creates glut for Georgia vegetable growers
South Georgia farmers ship food from Florida to Canada, but the closures cost them 40- to 50% of their market. Growers are caught between being unable to sell all their crop and selling what they can in a flooded market with dropping prices.

The pandemic has put farmers in line for a third —for some a fourth— tough year thanks to bad weather and the Chinese tariff war blockages. Georgia’s $13.7 billion agricultural industry is likely to see losses that will ripple up and down the economic ladder, especially in rural communities like Colquitt County, where Southern Valley is located. The vegetable business brought $167 million into the county in 2018, according to numbers from the University of Georgia.

There, farmers plowed under thousands of acres of fresh vegetables, and with them their hopes to avert a loss in 2020.Besides turning vegetables into cow fodder, Southern Valley has donated food from its 3,000 south Georgia acres to helping agencies across the Southeast. But some of the eggplant, peppers, broccoli and tomatoes ripening in the fields are likely to go waste as the picking season is just starting.

Gary Black, the state agricultural commissioner along with the University of Georgia’s agricultural college and its network of farm cooperative extension offices are scrambling to create markets for Georgia produce from asparagus to zucchini. Also, some help could come from the federal Department of Agriculture under Secretary Sonny Perdue, which is starting a new national Farmers to Families Food Box program to buy and distribute up to $3 billion in meat and produce.

Bosnia: Raspberry grower starts importing medical ventilators
Local Bosnian agricultural company Srebrena Malina has been chosen by the state to import 100 respirators from China. The fruit and vegetable grower made a five-million-euro contract, having no reference for dealing with the medical equipment.

The model of ventilators that arrived is not FDA approved. It is also available for sale on Facebook despite a shortage in the world market. It is mainly used in ambulance cars and not in intensive care units. The state Agency for Medical Products and Medical Devices provided the licence to the farmer a few weeks after the contract was signed and a few days after the equipment landed to Sarajevo airport last Saturday.

The company’s owner Fikret Hodžić is a local TV presenter as well. He accused media too for publishing “paid articles”, adding he is “sure that there will be more lies” about the case.

The case is not unique. The local tourist agency Travel for fun is chosen by the state to supply the public health system with the protective gear, making 1.4-million-euro contract.

Demand for callaloo rises in Jamaica
As the costs of produce and cash crops soared in markets across St Catherine during the recent COVID-19 lockdown, one item became a main feature on the plates of many; callaloo. The leafy, green vegetable went for $100 per bundle (€0,65), the usual price, unlike other crops like cabbage or carrots which were being sold way above their usual price point over the two-week period.

But thanks to local farmers, there was a cheap and steady supply of callaloo, especially in the parish’s most populated town centres, Spanish Town and Portmore. Hurdley Rowe, a callaloo farmer in Spanish Town, was a major supplier in these areas. From a 2-ha plot of callaloo, Rowe supplied his usual factory clients, as well as vendors who bought at $20 per pound.

During a visit to his farm, Rowe told the Jamaica Observer that he, unlike other farmers who capitalised on little or no competition from outside suppliers who remained largely absent during the lockdown, decided to keep his prices the same because so many poorer people have it as part of their staple diet. He explained that during the lockdown, business had increased so much that he eventually had to start rationing the vegetable among buyers.

Asia’s largest wholesale market is a ghost town – Azadpur Mandi
Deserted lanes, rows of shops abandoned and shopkeepers sitting around with unsold fruits and vegetables in the few shops that are open; Asia’s largest wholesale market, Azadpur Mandi, now resembles a ghost market in the middle of the afternoon.

On Wednesday, ThePrint met vendors and traders in the market who expressed fears of losing both lives and livelihoods amid an onslaught of factors, ranging from the spread of Covid-19 infection in the market to supply issues.

Apart from the impact of the nationwide lockdown announced on 24 March, the market has come up against many issues over the last couple of weeks. At least 15 people in the market have tested positive for COVID-19. A trader succumbed to the infection on 20 April in what was the first case from the market. After his death, his shop was sealed. With 14 other cases, all detected between 20 and 30 April, more and more shops are being sealed every day.

On 27 April, the Haryana government also sealed the Delhi-Sonipat and Delhi-Jhajjar borders, about 20 km away from the Azadpur Mandi. The movement of trucks is being allowed, but numbers have drastically gone down.

Niche grocers in India are filling many organic baskets
The lockdown in India has upended businesses across the country and pitched a new class of entrepreneurs to the fore. While supply chain disruptions have wreaked havoc with established organised trade, a small bunch of niche enterprises selling organic vegetables and fruits have suddenly seen their sales rise exponentially.

The phone has been ringing off the hook at Anushka Noshir Panthaky’s The Greens, an organic food delivery in Mumbai. From about 20 deliveries of organic fruits and vegetables a week, she’s now doing 50 deliveries with her staff of three. The story is similar even for relatively bigger boys like Sahyadri Farms, delivering bulk orders to housing societies in Mumbai, Thane, Nashik and Pune.

“We’d resorted to organic methods like sending WhatsApp messages. A tonne of dormant customers are returning because people are eating at home,” said Shruti Jain, co-founder of Kaze Living that sells hydroponic vegetables. With limited access to supermarkets and e-commerce companies struggling with labour and curfew passes, a number of otherwise unknown fruit and vegetable sellers are stepping up across the country to fill the demand gap, and seeing a huge rise in demand for their products. They typically advertise heavily on social media platforms like Instagram to gain new customers during the lockdown and besides word of mouth publicity they use WhatsApp as their outreach platforms.

China’s taste for Thai durians undiminished by pandemic
As the durians ripen in her orchard of 180 trees, Vipavadee Teplasamee eyes a lucrative harvest in May of the fruit regarded as “green gold” in Chanthaburi, a province southeast of Bangkok. The Thai fruit grower has pinned her hopes on China’s appetite for the durian, which remains steadfast.

Even the pandemic has failed to break this supply chain. The army of Chinese middlemen who go around Thailand to buy the fruit directly from orchards during harvest season took an unusual step this year. They visited farmers like Vipavadee in March to book the fruit, then raw, in advance before flying home prior to Thailand shutting airports to international flights.

Vipavadee echoes the sentiments of other fruit farmers who were guaranteed sales of their harvest despite the economic disruption: “The Chinese buyers have built up a wide network and know when we are ready to pluck the fruits. This year should be another good season.”

Chinese middlemen placed orders for the fruits this year as they did in the past. Time worked in favor of Thai farmers, since they began harvesting just as China began to ease the lockdown, enabling them to sell the fruits that had been pre-booked by the middlemen earlier.

The spike in durian cultivation, driven by rising demand in China and higher prices for the fruit, has taken root elsewhere in Thailand as well. Nationwide cultivation covered 152,000 hectares by 2019, up from 96,000 in 2012, the Office of Agricultural Economics says.

Sri Lankan govt buys 367 tonnes of vegetables from farmers
District Secretary Rohana Pushpakumara has stated that the government has intervened to purchase 367,000 kilograms of vegetables from the Nuwara Eliya district at a cost of Rs. 33 million (€158,400). He said that steps were taken to distribute vegetables in 30 local government bodies in the Matara, Kalutara, Anuradhapura, Colombo and Kandy districts.


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