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

Corona-update: California governor signed executive order to help essential workers in food supply chain

At the start of this week, the news from the US is mixed. California Governor Gavin Newsom announced last week that he signed an executive order to help essential workers in the food supply chain, including workers in the delivery and fast-food industries. But meanwhile, the pandemic is hurting part of the spring lettuce harvest on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, there are fears of the Washington potato sector being hammered, people suspect that the total acreage of Idaho’s potato crop could decrease significantly and Florida agriculture also takes a hit.

On this side of the pond, Ireland frantically tries to save fruit and vegetable harvest, while the Port of Antwerp is teaming up with tech company Rombit by looking at the Romware Covid Radius, a digital bracelet that ensures social distancing.

The global supply chain shock has Malaysian growers dumping food, which is also one of the reasons their government decided to offer pointers in helping its traders and retailers to push the fruit online.

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

California: Governor Newsom signs executive order giving relief to food industry workers
Last week, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced that he has signed an executive order to help essential workers in the food supply chain, including workers in the delivery and fast-food industries, amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Newsom said there will be "two weeks of supplemental sick leave for workers who have been exposed to COVID-19 or have been exposed to isolation or quarantine orders by local health officials or state or federal officials."

"I think about the people that grow our food, that pick our food, the people that pack our food, deliver our food, cook, serve and sell our food," Newsom said. "That sector by definition is essential to our livelihoods ... it has been hard hit by strife and by challenges in terms of health and safety ... This is a serious issue and requires a serious response."

Port of Antwerp tests smart bracelet to prevent corona infection
Port of Antwerp is teaming up with the tech company Rombit to prevent corona infection on the workfloor. Rombit has developed the Romware Covid Radius, a digital bracelet that ensures social distancing and permits contact tracing. Port of Antwerp will be the first to use this innovative bracelet.

To produce this armband Rombit has added new functions to its existing safety bracelet, the Romware ONE. This will help employees to observe the strict precautions laid down by the World Health Organisation (WHO) while respecting the privacy of the wearer. The initiative is also a response to the call by the Flemish Government to create digital solutions for helping society through the current corona crisis. Port of Antwerp, which recently introduced a project with the Romware ONE safety bracelet, will be the first to make use of the Covid functions.

Click here for the Port of Antwerp press release.


COVID-19 hits Californian Huron lettuce harvest
The pandemic is striking part of the spring lettuce harvest in the Huron district on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley. And unless something changes, melons, garlic, and tomatoes could be next, warns farmer Mark Borba of Borba Farms.

Lettuce is grown on about 7,000 to 8,000 acres in the Huron district, which “produces about 90% of the nation’s lettuce supply during the three weeks from mid-March to mid-April,” Borba told GV Wire on Thursday. But the harvest was hit head-on by the national shutdown to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.


Pandemic shutdown hammering Washington potato sector
The economic crisis caused by the pandemic has really hit the Washington potato industry hard, it now facing the prospect of dumping product because markets have disappeared.

Restaurants have mostly shut down, which eliminated a major market for processed potatoes. That includes everything from instant mashed potatoes to french fries. As a result, Washington growers have 1 billion pounds of potatoes in storage with no place to sell them, said Chris Voigt, executive director of the Washington Potato Commission.

Producers actually have 3 billion pounds in storage, but about 70% of all spuds grown in the Evergreen State are exported. So far, those exports have remained strong. “But we are estimating that 1 billion pounds will not be used,” Voigt said.


Ireland frantically tries to save fruit and vegetable harvest
Wexford strawberry farmer John Green keeps his early crop swaddled in fleece in a warm polytunnel to coddle them into fruiting on May 1st. But when the lockdown loomed he stripped off all the fleece and opened the doors to the crisp spring air. It became suddenly crucial to slow down the arrival of these first Irish strawberries.

Plunging his young plants into chillier conditions has hopefully pushed his harvest out to June 1st. But travel restrictions now look set to remain in place. Irish students who might have been waiting tables on a J1 might be strawberry picking in Wexford instead.


COVID-19 pandemic could force down Idaho potato acres
The total acreage of Idaho’s potato crop could decrease significantly this year as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. Although there was a rush on potatoes at grocery stores early on, that has abated somewhat and has not been enough to make up for a major decrease in sales of potatoes and potato products through foodservice channels, according to industry leaders.

“We expect to see a significant cut in acres this year,” said Idaho Potato Commission President and CEO Frank Muir.


Florida agriculture also takes a hit
In many parts of Florida, the agricultural picture is a mess, thanks to the lack of people buying fresh fruits and vegetables and the closure of restaurants, schools and other facilities farmers rely on to sell products. And the sour picture is filtering down to Citrus County.

Clay Cooper, agriculture and natural resource agent with the Citrus County UF IFAS Extension Office, said it’s too early to tell how much of an effect it will have. “We know that agriculture is being impacted at this point and is definitely facing some tough times,” Cooper said. “We don’t know what this will ultimately trickle down to in the big picture, but it will be an obstacle that (we) will have to overcome.”


Produce piles up in Nogales as nation’s supply chain is reeling
Hundreds of cars rolled through a parking lot at Rio Rico High School on Friday morning, but they weren’t dropping off students.

Instead, the vehicles pulled up next to stacks of boxes bearing names like Sunny Fresh and Excellent Pick, and labeled as containing products from Mexico. With the drivers remaining inside, workers in masks and gloves loaded their trunks and backseats with 10-pound cartons filled with tomatoes, bell peppers, zucchinis, watermelons and other food products – all for free.

It was part of a program that saw a coalition of government, non-profit and private sector partners distribute more than 1,600 boxes of fresh produce to community members at Rio Rico and Nogales high schools on Thursday and Friday.


Vasco fruit & vegetable vendors: Re-open town's markets
Vasco Vegetable and Fruit Vendors Association President Prashant Naik has urged the Mormugao Municipal Council to reopen vegetable and fruit markets in the town. Averring that since the closure of the markets, the prices of vegetables and fruits have increased, Naik demanded that the markets be reopened by deploying municipal inspectors and police.

Speaking to the media, Naik said that amidst the state-wide lockdown, people are managing with limited stock of groceries and other essential items. Taking advantage of this situation, he said, some illegal vendors are selling fruits and vegetables at exorbitant prices.


Global supply chain shock has Malaysian growers dumping food
Hundreds of melons have been left to rot on the fields of fruit farms and tonnes more thrown in the dumpsters, since Malaysia went into a lockdown on March 18. Under the movement control order (MCO), which is now extended till April 28, fresh markets and roadside stalls have been ordered to close, so demand for fresh produce has dropped dramatically, farmers told TODAY

Malaysian fruit farmer Toh Lee Chew said orders for his melons are down 50 to 70 per cent. Unable to find other ways to sell them, he has left the melons to rot in the fields. His brother Toh Lee Bing, who helps supply the fruits to markets and fruit stallholders, said he has had to throw away 3 to 4 tonnes of fruits from every lorry, even after donating whatever he can to charities.

The surplus situation is further exacerbated when Singapore went into a “circuit breaker” on April 7. The number of lorries carrying fruits from the Tohs’ farm every week into the Republic has since dropped from three to one or two.


Thailand adjusts fruit distribution plan as exports suffer
The Thai Ministry of Commerce is putting more emphasis on domestic markets for fruit sales this year, as the export sector is suffering from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. The Ministry wants to see more fruit sold from grocery trucks that deliver items right to a customers’ home.

The Commerce Ministry will be putting more emphasis on domestic markets, both online and offline, where wholesale markets across the country will help supply fruit to fresh markets, modern malls, and grocery trucks. Provincial commercial affairs officials are tasked with becoming salespersons for produce in their province.


Kerala: Horticorp procures 3 tons of passion fruit from farmers
Horticorp, a government organisation has started procuring passion fruit from farmers in Idukki's Munnar, as they were unable to sell 3,000kg of fruit produce due to COVID-19 lockdown.The farmers said if the govt had not bought the fruit they had to destroy them.

Horticorp collects fresh and non-toxic vegetables from the farmers and sells them directly to customers at reasonable prices. The selling of vegetables is done through Haritha stalls located all over Kerala. The corporation has been entrusted by the state government with the role of procurement, processing, storage and marketing of horticultural produces throughout the state.


Special needs for Malaysian fresh produce delivery
There is a need for ‘special lanes’ to be created for bonded and chiller trucks delivering fresh produce during the movement control order (MCO) period.

Penang agriculture and agro-based industries committee chairman Dr Norlela Ariffin said the move was vital to ensure perishable items were quickly distributed to the intended destinations amid tightened police checks during the MCO.

She said there were 280 companies operating in Penang and it could lead to traffic gridlock as the police need to check each motorist at the roadblocks during MCO.


Vietnam cargo carriage provides relief for transport sector
To offset the negative impact of COVID-19, transport businesses have turned to domestic and international cargo transport, thereby providing assistance to import and export activities, as well as aiding the Government in the fight against the epidemic.

From the beginning of March 2020, the Vietnam Airlines Corporation started to deploy pure cargo flights. Meanwhile, the railway industry has also transported hundreds of refrigerated dragon fruit containers to China. These efforts not only offer a way to "salvage" their business but also help to ensure the continuance of the nation’s trading activities amid the complicated epidemic prevalence.


China border gate trade set for return to normal
Authorities have agreed to restore normal customs clearance time at the Tan Thanh Border Gate in Vietnam's Lang Son Province after nearly two weeks.

The agreement was reached following a call Friday between Vietnam's Minister of Industry and Trade Tran Tuan Anh and China's head of the General Administration of Customs Ni Yuefeng and Minister of Commerce Zhong Shan.

Minister of Industry and Trade Tran Tuan Anh held phone talks with the Director of China’s General Administration of Customs Ni Yuefeng and Minister of Commerce Zhong San on April 17 to identify measures aimed at addressing the growing backlog of Vietnamese exports at border areas since the beginning of this month.


Thai authorities raid fruit warehouse used as hoarding storage for medical supplies
Thai authorities have on Friday revealed that they have cracked down on a fruit warehouse used as storage for hoarded medical supplies estimated over 10 million baht (307,616 U.S. dollars).

In a tip-off operation on Friday, the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) found nearly 30,000 liters of rubbing alcohol and sanitizing gel and 1,048 personal protective equipment (PPE) gear inside the warehouse in Bangkok's nearby province of Pathumthani.


Fruit truck smuggles people thru Baguio quarantine borders
A fruit truck was caught smuggling three people through the quarantine borders of the summer capital on Saturday (April 18), said Police Col. Allen Rae Co, city police director.

Acting on reports that people have snuck through checkpoints, the police conducted spot inspections and caught the men with no travel passes being transported by a truck registered with the H& E fruits & Vegetables Trading Company along Marcos Highway, Co said.


Malaysian traders urged to sell durians online
The Covid-19 pandemic and the ensuing movement control order (MCO) may be thorny issues for durian sellers now that that fruit is in season. But Penang state executive councillor in charge of tourism, Yeoh Soon Hin, has decided to offer pointers in helping its traders and retailers to push the fruit online.

In view of the MCO which restricts all forms of travel as part of the mitigation efforts to cut the transmission rate of the deadly virus, Yeoh said tourists and durian lovers cannot commute to estates offering the fruit in Balik Pulau and in Seberang Prai.


Chitwan police seizes Indian bananas brought to Nepal
Chitwan police officers have seized Indian bananas brought to Nepal on Sunday morning. The police seized the bananas being brought from India in a truck at Bharatpur-4 Lanku. According to SP Nanti Raj Gurung, the Chief of the Chitwan District Police, the bananas were brought via Sunauli border using Nepali truck. The police seized the truck and the bananas when they were being taken out to store in the chamber.

Shiva Sapkota, a businessman of Bharatpur had ordered the bananas from India. District Administration Office Chitwan has banned the import of fruits from India as coronavirus pandemic is wide-spreading in India.


Bangladesh vegetable growers in trouble
Vegetable farmers in Bangladesh have been incurring big losses for weeks due to supply chain disruptions and a poor demand following the countrywide lockdown. The stay-at-home holiday that started on March 26 as a precaution against the deadly coronavirus pandemic might end on April 25.

But the month-long shutdown has forced farmers to sell their produce at throwaway rates due to a low demand amid supply disruptions. Farmer in Rangpur, Dinajpur, Bogura, Manikganj, Cumilla, Narsingdi, Jashore, Khulna and Chattogram have been selling their summer vegetables even at one fourth of their production costs.

Some 8,000 to 8,500 tonnes of vegetables enter Dhaka city daily during summer from April to August, but it has dropped to just 200-300 tonnes now.

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