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

Corona-update: Dutch government allocates € 50 million to help potato growers

In this last Coronavirus update of the week, we take a look at the government of the Netherlands providing € 650 million to save farmers from losses caused by the pandemic. On a more global scale, the question has arisen as to whether COVID-19 will bring about a new global freight strategy.

Canada is not without problems of its own, as farmers in Norfolk County say a labour shortage caused by COVID-19 will force them to leave as much as half their crop in the ground, Canadian onion growers seek federal help and COVID-19 will affect the Manitoba potato acreage as McCain and Simplot scale down there.

All is not doom and gloom. There’s better news from Turkey, where agricultural exports were on the rise during the January-April period.

This, and more, in today’s COVID-19 update.

Dutch government to allocate € 50 million to help potato growers
The government of the Netherlands will provide € 650 million to save farmers from complete bankruptcy and to pay off losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Of this amount, about € 50 million will be used to help potato growers.

The Netherlands is one of the world's leading producers of potatoes for fast food chains. Due to quarantine restrictions, most catering establishments are closed worldwide. Therefore, the Dutch potato entrepreneurs faced the problem of the inability to sell their products. To support agriculture, the Dutch government will allocate € 650 million, of which € 50 million will go to potato growers who have broken contracts because of the coronavirus pandemic, writes NOS.

The idea is that the first 30% of the loss of trade will be borne by the entrepreneurs themselves, and the remaining 70% of the damage will be “substantially compensated” by the state.

As previously reported by Reuters, the quarantine ban on the work of public catering establishments can last at least until June 1. Due to such restrictions, the potato market actually collapsed.

Will COVID-19 bring about a new global freight strategy?
COVID-19 has generated unprecedented disruption in the global logistics and freight industries, severely impacting operations and delivery activities. However, could these current challenges ultimately pave the way for a more streamlined, efficient and environmentally-friendly future?

Demand for essential goods, such as produce, medical supplies and Personal Protective Equipment, has significantly increased, while manufacturing capacity has decreased due to various lockdown restrictions. In the short term, hauliers, international gateways and retailers are facing a climate of uncertainty.

Beyond economic stimulation, the need for a more resilient supply chain to mitigate potential disruptions from future similar events could see producers and distributors looking to local manufacturers rather than international suppliers. These manufacturers would ideally be located near to where the key supplies are required.

The current situation provides an opportunity to consider strategic locations where local manufacturing and production hubs could be key in providing this resilience while acting as an economic booster to those regions.

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Ontario labour shortage to cut Norfolk County asparagus harvest in half
Farmers in Norfolk County, where most Canadian asparagus comes from, say a labour shortage caused by COVID-19 will force them to leave as much as half their crop in the ground. Norfolk farmers normally grow 70 per cent of Ontario’s asparagus on 2,600 acres.

“The asparagus season is going to be devastating,” said Jason Ryder, who says he can only harvest 58 of the 94 acres of asparagus on his farm in Lynedoch.

“It’s the same story at farms across the county,” said Asparagus Farmers of Ontario executive director Bernie Solymar. “Our best guesstimate is we’re only going to be harvesting 50 per cent of the crop.” That could mean higher prices for consumers.

“It’s quite possible that asparagus will be more expensive this year,” Solymar said, adding that the leaner harvest will also be a financial blow to farmers. “I think this is going to hit, in particular, smaller family operations very hard. It’s just too much disruption.”

Norfolk normally brings in 4,500 offshore workers to harvest and plant crops. After the federal government initially barred them from entering the country during the pandemic, workers contracted through the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program started to land in Norfolk and went into mandatory self-isolation for two weeks.

Turkey: Agricultural exports rise in Q1 despite pandemic
Turkey’s agricultural exports were on the rise during the January-April period, despite the coronavirus outbreak that disrupted global supply chains and economic activities, while the industry and mining-dependent sectors have recorded a decline in exports during the same period, official data revealed.

The agriculture-based sector exports have increased by 2.9% in the first quarter of the year, according to an Anadolu Agency (AA) report Thursday which cited data from the Turkey Exporters Assembly (TİM). Meanwhile, industry and mining exports have declined some 16.2% and 6.4%, respectively.

The overall exports of the country also fell by 13.6% year-on-year in the first quarter, totaling around $51.7 billion. In terms of value, agricultural exports have reached $7.8 billion in the January-April period, while industrial exports stood at $38.6 billion and mining exports were at $1.3 billion.

Fresh fruit and vegetable exports followed the rising trend with a 21.6% increase, reaching $756.3 million. Export of vegetable products also increased by 12.9%, totaling $565.4 million.

South Africa: Mbombela’s demand for fresh fruit and vegetables surges
The COVID-19 lockdown has produced a boom at some of South Africa’s regional fresh produce markets, due to the demand for cheaper and direct access to fresh produce.

Luan Wentzel, MD at RSA Tshwane and RSA Regional Markets, said, “Both our RSA Vaal and RSA Nelspruit operations surpassed their monthly sales record on April 21, with eight trading days still to go. “Current estimates also indicate that Polokwane will surpass its April record by at least 10 per cent at month end. Mooketsi market isn’t in line for a record but is performing at similar levels to last year.”

Since the lockdown, South Africa’s fresh produce markets have seen an increase in private buyers as well as the retail and informal traders network.

“Numbers are almost impossible to define, especially because lots of different groups pool resources for group buying, but the feedback from our agents clearly shows that there has been substantial increase in the numbers of people buying for personal use compared to pre-lockdown,” said Wentzel.

This growth signifies the versatility of South African fresh produce markets which comprise an invaluable part of the national food supply chain as well as an alternative to citizens living far away from supermarkets, or do not have access to street hawkers and informal traders.

Canadian onion growers seek federal help
As the nationwide onion market continues to collapse, area producers are turning to the federal government to survive. The government has a relief plan – the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program – that will furnish $16 billion in help to farmers. Of that, $2.1 billion is to help producers cover losses for specialty crops such as onions.

Onions are Malheur County’s biggest economic sector with a crop value of $80 million annually. Under the program, producers can receive up to $125,000 for one specialty crop and up to $250,000 if they suffer losses with two specialty crops.

The money, though, probably won’t be enough for most onion producers, said Grant Kitamura, managing partner and chief executive officer of Baker & Murakami Produce Company, an onion packing firm in Ontario.

COVID-19 puts the brakes on potato acreage as McCain and Simplot scale down in Manitoba
Manitoba’s potato acreage will take a hit this year in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and plummeting demand. According to multiple industry sources, McCain Foods has dropped 16 per cent of acres from its contracts with Canada’s Manitoba farmers, while Simplot has also made smaller cuts from its agreements.

As demand shrinks, less processing potatoes will go into the ground this year, as well as sending up a cloud of uncertainty for seed potato growers, writes reporter Alexis Stockford in Manitoba Co-operator today.

Alexis writes that North America’s potato industries have taken a big hit from the COVID-19 pandemic. Lockdown of restaurant dining rooms, bars and other food-service locations have sent demand for products like french fries or hash browns, and therefore, potato consumption among processors like McCain and Simplot, into a nose-dive.

Manitoba producers were expecting a boost in acres in 2020. Impacts of the pandemic come soon after major producer Simplot was expected to ramp up production. In 2018, the company announced a $460-million plant expansion at Portage la Prairie. Potato growers this year were expecting to queue up additional acres to feed the expanded plant.

Philippines: E-commerce for agri products ‘new normal, positive’ effect of pandemic
E-commerce in agricultural marketing and trading has become the “new normal” and one “positive” effect of the pandemic, the Department of Agriculture (DA) said Friday.

“This is now the one positive aspect that has been brought about by COVID-19 pandemic. E-commerce or e-Kadiwa in agriculture and fisheries will be a new mechanism with which marketing or trading of agricultural produce will happen,” DA Secretary William Dar said.

The agency recently launched e-Kadiwa, a website allowing members of the private sector to sell their produce to ordinary consumers and local government units (LGUs). Since its launch, Dar said about 54 merchants have signified interest to join the platform.

“There are 300 enquiries as to how to join and a set of 54 vendors are applying to be a part of this platform of e-Kadiwa,” Dar said. Earlier, Dar said this project will give local producers a stable market amid the lockdowns imposed in several parts of the country. This way, LGUs would also be encouraged to distribute healthier food, instead of canned goods which are the usual staple for relief packages.

West Bengal pineapple growers cry for help as markets are stagnant
Despite the harvest season, several vegetable and fruit farmers have been facing losses since the lockdown was imposed. In West Bengal's Siliguri, the pineapple farmers are facing the brunt of the lockdown as their fruits are getting spoiled as they are unable to transport their fruits to other states.

"Currently, our fruits have no takers. Earlier, we used to ship our produce to other states and even Nepal. However, due to the lockdown, there is no vehicular movement and, hence, neither are the labourers coming to our plantation nor are we are not able to export our produce. We have become helpless," Mohammad Alam, one of the pineapple growers, stated.

He further said, "I had to take a loan of about Rs 200,000-300,000 (€2,400-3,600) during the start of the plantation. However, now I feel that I won't be able to repay my loan." Recounting his agony, Alam said that the pineapple which earlier used to be sold at Rs 20-25 per kilo is now being asked for Rs 3-4 per kilo in local markets. "I request the Central and state government to help us by at least waiving our loans," he added.

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