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

Corona-update: 'US & Europe already in recession'

In the US, potatoes are a hot item across the nation. Unfortunately, in other news, the US & Europe already seem to be in recession. On a lighter note, UK farming leaders have stated that surplus food supplies caused by the closure of major restaurant chains like McDonald’s will now be redirected the consumers. There is also a general directive about what New Zealand growers need to know in the current environment, as well as news on markets and initiatives in India.

Potatoes flying off US retail shelves
All over the US, potatoes are suddenly a hot item across the nation and there are reports of goods flying off grocery store shelves. “It’s been really remarkable how fast … potatoes have been flying off the shelves,” said Blair Richardson, president and CEO of Potatoes USA, the nation’s potato marketing organization. “Potatoes are being purchased as soon as they come into stores in many areas.”

“You can hardly find retailers with potatoes on the shelves” in some places, Idaho Potato Commission CEO Frank Muir told

The sale of potatoes through foodservice channels has dropped significantly as many restaurants and schools have shut down because of the coronavirus outbreak, Muir said.

But retail sales have jumped significantly and the IPC has sent out a communication to retailers, foodservice customers and shippers trying to facilitate a quick shift of spuds from foodservice to retail channels.

A farmer from Hammett said he’s heard that “retail can’t keep up with the demand for potatoes right now.” He said the industry, with the help of the commission, is undertaking a major effort to move potato cartons from foodservice to retail.

Even though spuds are a hot item right now, industry leaders said there is no shortage of potatoes in this country, nor will there be next year.


US & Europe already in recession
The closure of retail chains, offices, and workplaces is freezing economic activity, tipping the US into recession. The US and global economies are already falling into recession, with forecasts being revised on the fly as the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) spreads around the world, putting an end to a 10-year US economic expansion, according to IHS Markit Chief Economist Nariman Behravesh.

“There’s no question we’re in a recession,” Behravesh said Thursday during the JOC webcast, TPM20: What We Missed — The Economic, Trade and Container Shipping Outlook. “The only question is how deep.” As of Thursday, IHS Markit, parent company of, forecast the US economy would contract 0.2 percent in 2020, “but that will very soon get revised down to at least -1 percent,” perhaps by the end of the week, Behravash told the more than 1,100 logistics executives who attended the webcast.

The direct cause of the recession is the spreading coronavirus, or more precisely the precautions taken against the coronavirus, he said. “So far, it looks like the only way to stop it (COVID-19) is by freezing economic activity, and that plunges the economy into recession,” Behravesh said. “The virus itself isn’t killing the economy, but the response to it is sending us into recession.”


UK farms’ supplies diverted to retailers after McDonald’s closes
Farming leaders said the “huge surplus” of food supplies caused by the closure of major restaurant chains like McDonald’s will now be redirected to shops where consumers can buy it.

Concerns over the spread of coronavirus have forced the fast food giant to temporarily close all of its 1,270 restaurants – which source £600m of ingredients each year from 23,000 British and Irish farmers, including many in East Anglia.

But the region’s agricultural leaders are confident that supplies of beef, potatoes and pork – originally destined to become take-away fries and burgers – will be quickly diverted to retailers via their “incredibly flexible and nimble” supply chains.

Andrew Blenkiron, estate director of the Euston Estate near Thetford, is also vice-chairman of the Red Tractor assurance scheme and vice chairman of the Suffolk branch of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU). “Everyone is so integrated in this supply chain that they have the ability to easily redirect product from one customer to another,” he said. “The people who process and pack for McDonald’s will also process and pack for supermarkets as well. So instead of mince beef for fast food burgers, it could be prime cuts for the supermarkets.”

Neil Shand, a director at the National Beef Association (NBA), said: “From the NBA’s perspective, we are living in a country that is now on lockdown. We are less than 70pc self-sufficient in beef and we have surplus created by some organisations, such as McDonald’s, not operating in their normal way.

“Any meat produced by farmers that is not going to be used for trade in McDonald’s will be redirected in the food chain to make sure everybody is catered for and used to keep the country fed.”


California Citrus Mutual wants letters for essential workers
As part of the state effort to control the Covid-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced a state-wide stay-at-home order that went into effect immediately. The order does not apply to workers in essential businesses, which includes agriculture.

In some parts of the state, the order is being aggressively enforced by local law enforcement. Reports are circulating that some employees have been stopped on their way to and from work and asked to return home.

California Citrus Mutual (CCM) recommends all members provide their employees with a letter stating that they are an employee of an essential business. All employees should keep the letter with them while traveling to and from work.

The letter should be on company letterhead and signed by a company manager. CCM recommends the following wording: “According to the Department of Homeland Security’s Guidance On The Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce, dated March 19, 2020, food and agriculture are deemed a critical infrastructure that must be maintained during the COVID-19 crisis. (Company Name) is an agricultural business that is critical to the food supply chain, and (Employee Name) is an essential employee of the business.”


COVID-19 shuts down Miami farmers markets
At this point in time, keeping fresh produce in the house is tough when online delivery is limited and Miami’s farmers markets are mostly shut down. But the Urban Oasis Project has found a way to keep bringing veggies to the people during the coronavirus pandemic.

The non-profit, which operates several of Miami’s farmers markets including the ones at Legion Park, Tropical Park and Surfside Market, is upping its game with delivery service and pop-up pick-up sites around town. In states like California and New York, farmers markets have so far been deemed “essential businesses” and allowed to stay open in the wake of coronavirus measures. That’s simply not the case in Miami, where the cancellation of temporary event permits has shut down the markets.


Coronavirus: What New Zealand growers need to know
More information has been provided on how those working in the agriculture sector will operate during the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions. Primary industries and those who supply them have been deemed an essential service, however will need to follow strict rules to stop the spread of the virus.

Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor says the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has been working closely with food producers and other government agencies to ensure safe operations.

"The primary sector from the biggest companies, co-operatives, large orchards, right down to the smallest farms must keep high standards in workplaces for their own safety and others' wellbeing," he says.

MPI has set up a registration system for those businesses which intend to continue to operate during the lockdown.


Nagpur markets deserted, prices of fruit & vegetables rising
With the entire state concerned by the recent curfew, most of the markets in the city had a deserted look on Tuesday. "The markets are not the same any more in the light of social distancing advisory to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Sales have drastically dropped due to virtually no footfall," said one retailer.

The sale of fruits and vegetables has drastically dropped even in local vegetable markets like Khamla, Gokulpeth, and Itwari as a result of the low footfall. Many shopkeepers sold vegetables at discounted rates fearing that these would rot and turn into waste. To maintain social distancing at local markets, the Nagpur Municipal Corporation has used chalks and demarcated lines outside every unit in almost all markets.

Even orders at food chains, especially kitchen restaurants, have dropped drastically. Owner of a kitchen restaurant from Sadar, requesting anonymity, said that online food orders have dropped since Monday. Prashant Sahare, a professional and a bachelor staying in an apartment in KT Nagar, said that he continues to get food online since his firm has asked him to work from home.


India: AMC will sell vegetables door-to-door
Beginning tomorrow, the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation is sending e-rickshaws full of fresh goods to people’s doorsteps. The AMC wants to do away with hordes gathering at vegetable markets and ensure maximum compliance to government's lockdown orders.

The Smart City and Urban Community Development departments will work together to implement the same. Deputy Municipal Commissioner Nitin Sanghwan said, "We are yet to fix the timings. We are in the process of preparing a road map and decide on which areas to cover first and how to go about it."

In all, there will be 10 e-rickshaws that will cover all the areas under seven zones."Women self-help groups will be in charge of providing a steady supply of vegetables. The purpose is to avoid large congregations and keep people safe in their homes. There won't be issues pertaining to hygiene; said Mukesh Gadhvi, Deputy Municipal Commissioner. In keeping with the lockdown orders, only a few vegetable shops in the city are open and that too only for limited duration. Besides, citizens have been complaining about hike in retail prices of potato, lemon, carrot and cabbages. However, the prices have not been affected, largely.


Indian Supreme Court receives appeal to three-month export ban
The Supreme Court was requested to redirect the ban on export of vegetable and fruits for three months, so that the people could get fruits and vegetable at affordable prices. Advocate Zulfiqar Ahmed Bhutta filed a petition in the Supreme Court under Article 184(3) of the Constitution making federation through secretary Establishment Division as respondent.

He called on the court to direct the federal and the provincial governments to formulate export policy by which hike in prices of food and vegetable be stopped. The petitioner submitted that due to rapid spread of coronavirus across the globe, everyone was terrified about his/her survival and several countries had imposed mandatory lockdown recommending around 1.7 billion people to stay at home.


Philippines: Vegetable deliveries hampered  at checkpoints
Despite the Department of Agriculture’s (DA) assurance that Metro Manila will continue to have a stable food supply despite the crisis, the price of goods —particularly of vegetables— have continued to surge during the past days.

Since September 2019, The Murang Gulay Shop has been sourcing vegetables from farmers primarily from the provinces of Benguet and Pangasinan. However, the declaration of the Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the transport of produce to Metro Manila, giving other traders an opportunity to jack up their prices.

Cargo trucks from Benguet are held up at several checkpoints and reach Metro Manila only days later. Meanwhile, vegetable farmers from Pangasinan and neighboring areas are not able to transport their harvest because tricycles have been banned from traveling in some areas, even if they’re ferrying foodstuff.

Turkey: Fines to be imposed on those with exorbitant prices
Turkey’s Competition Authority, has stated that “Nowadays, the global COVID-19 epidemic is experienced in the food market of our country, especially in the fresh fruit and vegetable market. It is observed that exorbitant price increases were made with an opportunistic approach.”

The Competition Authority, which is empowered to protect consumer welfare and prevent actions and transactions that disrupt effective competition conditions, closely monitors the price increases and all actors contributing to this increase.

In this context, the heaviest administrative fines determined by the Competition Law will be imposed on individuals and institutions (all kinds of actors such as producers, intermediaries, carriers, end sellers) engaged in anti-competitive actions in the food market, especially fresh fruits and vegetables.


Vietnamese agro exports to US & EU badly affected
With Vietnam’s main agro-forestry-fishery export markets after China such as the US and Europe being hit by the new coronavirus, Vietnamese exporters are suffering.

Nguyen Dinh Tung, Chairman and CEO of Vina T&T Group, which exports fresh fruits to several demanding markets, said fruit exports by air to the US and EU were down 70-80 percent since many airlines had stopped flights. "Shipments by sea are relatively stable but customs clearance in importing countries is expected to be prolonged because workers and officials are absent from work due to the pandemic, which could affect the goods quality. Therefore, at least in the next one month, vegetable and fruit exports to these markets will drop sharply."

After that, the export situation would depend entirely on how the countries control the pandemic, he said. His company now exports only three items, coconut, longan and durian, because they last long, and temporary stops exporting other fruits.


Kazakhstan restricts agricultural goods export
Kazakhstan has introduced restrictions on export of agricultural goods for the period of emergency state in the country, Trend reports with reference to Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Healthcare.

The list of products which were prohibited to export includes buckwheat, sugar, potatoes, carrots, onions and white cabbage. The corresponding decree of Kazakhstan’s Agriculture Ministry said that the prohibition on the export of these goods from Kazakhstan to third countries is valid from March 20 till April 15, 2020

On March 15, 2020, Kazakhstan’s President Kassym Jomart Tokayev signed a decree introducing an emergency state in Kazakhstan due to coronavirus outbreak, which will last till April 15, 2020.

The first two cases of coronavirus infection were detected in Kazakhstan among those who arrived in Almaty city from Germany on March 13, 2020. The latest data said that the overall number of coronavirus cases in Kazakhstan is 68 people.


Russia bans potatoes from Kazakhstan
The order to ban the export of certain goods from the territory of Kazakhstan was enacted in accordance with the presidential decree "On Further Measures to Stabilize the Economy." The Ministry of Agriculture of the country called food products that are forbidden to be exported to third countries until April 15, reports.

The list includes buckwheat, white sugar, potatoes, carrots, onions and white cabbage.

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