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Assessing lessons learned during COVID

The COVID-19 pandemic is causing lost business and increasing costs for fresh produce growers.

Robert Verloop, COO/General Manager for Coastline Family Farms, BB #:141488 Salinas, CA, said he’s seen estimates that the leafy greens business will lose half a billion dollars this year.

On the Produce Marketing Association’s BB #:153708 weekly town hall meeting, September 16, speakers talked about the increasing costs of compliance during the pandemic.

Jim Byron, CEO of Xgenex, a food safety company based in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL, said he expects this virus to be around for a long time, so produce companies making food safety investments now will pay off, and even when it goes away, a bigger focus on food safety will remain.

Verloop said there were important things that grower-shippers like his learned in the past six months.

“COVID showed the need to communicate proactively [with customers] rather than just top-to-top discussions,” he said.

Verloop said his company’s membership in the Grower-Shipper Association of Central California BB #:162651 paid off when it worked with local health and medical organizations to educate farm workers about safer practices both at work and at home.

He also said the USDA Farmers to Families Food Box program has been crucial to many growers, as they’ve been able to recoup some money from crops that were planted before the pandemic and then lost their markets during lockdowns.

Tania Martinez, vice president of consultancy Demos Global, said she’s seen an increase in the need for certification during the pandemic, and it’s not all legitimate, as COVID has shown not to be a foodborne virus.

Max Teplitski, chief science officer for PMA, said one example is China requiring more certifications, which perform more as a non-tariff trade barrier.

Verloop said one of the greatest lessons of the pandemic is to be better prepared.

“We need to look at crisis preparedness as an industry and as a nation,” he said. “There’s a societal shift that will result from COVID.”

Greg Johnson is Director of Media Development for Blue Book Services