April 30, 2020
When the coronavirus pandemic began to unfold in tree fruit country, the news was coming fast and furious and we began a running list of updates to keep our readers informed. Now, nearly two months later, it’s undeniably clear that the coronavirus will impact every aspect of doing business this season, so we are discontinuing our quick update-style of coverage and reverting to our usual style of web stories.
All of Good Fruit Grower‘s coronavirus coverage can be found here: good fruit.com/coronavirus
Coronavirus uncertainty rattles the fruit industry
Coronavirus uncertainty is rippling throughout every facet of the U.S. economy, and the tree fruit industry is certainly not immune.
The Good Fruit Grower will keep updating this post with coronavirus concerns and conversations for the tree fruit industry, but for the most up-to-date health information, we recommend the Centers for Disease Control website at cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019
—by Good Fruit Grower staff
March 12, 2020
04/27/2020: USDA Food Box proposals due May 1
Agricultural producers interested in submitting a proposal for the United States Department of Agriculture’s Farmers to Families Food Box Program have until May 1 to apply.
The USDA Agricultural Marketing Service announced it is accepting proposals until Friday, May 1 at 10 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time, according to a news release on April 27.
Under this program, for six months, the U.S. Department of Agriculture will purchase $100 million per month of consumer-ready boxes of mixed fresh produce to be distributed to local and regional nonprofit organizations.
The program is part of the Coronavirus Farm Assistance Program announced by Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on April 17 and includes plans to purchase fruits and vegetables, dairy products and meat products.
For more information about the Food Box program, including a link to the proposal form and informational webinars from United Fresh and AMS, click here.
04/23/2020: Yakima County agricultural coronavirus cases not centered in hot spot
The 70 agricultural workers who tested positive for the coronavirus in Yakima County were a culmination of all cases since the virus was first identified in Yakima in mid-March and covered a wide array of farming related job locations, health authorities said.
There had not been any hot spots so far, said Lilian Bravo of the Yakima Health District on Tuesday in an email to the Good Fruit Grower.
The workers were from packing houses, orchards and even agricultural company administrative offices, Bravo said.
Agricultural employers have been cooperative, Bravo said.
“Our environmental health team has expressed that employers that have been contacted have been very open to additional consultation and assistance and already had several measures in place in response to COVID-19,” she said in the email. “They are helpful with additional information and cooperative and open to future collaboration efforts.”
She encouraged farm-related employers and workers to consult the recent state Labor and Industry guideline sheets, available both in English and in Spanish, for agricultural workplaces and packing houses.
—F414-165-000 Coronavirus (COVID-19) Prevention in Agriculture and Related Industries: https://www.lni.wa.gov/forms-publications/F414-165-000.pdf
—F414-166-000 Food Processing-Warehouse Coronavirus (COVID-19) Fact Sheet: https://www.lni.wa.gov/forms-publications/F414-166-000.pdf
—F414-165-999 Coronavirus (COVID-19) Prevention in Agriculture and Related Industries, Spanish: https://www.lni.wa.gov/forms-publications/F414-165-999.pdf
—F414-166-999 Food Processing-Warehouse Coronavirus (COVID-19) Fact Sheet, Spanish: https://www.lni.wa.gov/forms-publications/F414-166-999.pdf
04/22/2020: Stemilt announces coronavirus infections after testing asymptomatic workers
Stemilt Ag Services has announced that 36 employees have tested positive for the coronavirus.
The company worked with a Wenatchee, Washington, medical clinic and local public health authorities to “proactively” test 71 asymptomatic workers in an East Wenatchee orchard housing facility over the weekend, the company announced in a news release Tuesday. More than half of the results came back positive.
Those workers are being isolated in a separate housing facility, said Roger Pepperl, Stemilt’s marketing director, in a follow-up phone call. Doctors and other health professionals are helping Stemilt monitor the conditions of the isolated workers, who have not shown any symptoms of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.
Stemilt had been maintaining social distance and following all the other guidelines regarding coronavirus, said Barry King, administrator of the Chelan-Douglas Health District, in the news release. The positive cases indicate that asymptomatic carriers of the coronavirus are quite common and prove the need for more widespread testing among farmworkers, he said.
Stemilt Ag Services is a subsidiary of Stemilt Growers of Wenatchee, one of Washington’s largest fruit producers and shippers.
04/17/2020: Washington farmworker unions sue state over pandemic housing guidelines
Farmworker justice advocates have sued Washington health and safety authorities seeking more teeth to coronavirus-related farming guidelines.
Familias Unidas por la Justicia and the United Farm Workers filed a petition Thursday, April 16, in Skagit County Superior Court, asking the court to require the state departments of Health and Labor and Industries to adopt emergency rules to protect farmworkers from the coronavirus.
So far, state agencies have issued mostly voluntary guidelines about how to farm during the pandemic.
In March, the state Department of Health released a list of recommendations for how farmers should set up temporary worker housing facilities to prevent spreading the virus. The recommendations included handwashing and maintaining social distance. One of the suggestions, the one the unions take the most exception to, is to isolate sick workers by placing them on one side of the room and healthy workers on the other, if separate rooms are not available.
In early April, the Department of Labor and Industries announced it would consider the coronavirus a known workplace safety hazard and require employers to protect their workers from it. It mandates supplying hygiene supplies and educational steps, but it stipulates a separate room for sick workers “if available.”
The unions asked the agencies to set firmer rules in early April and followed with the petition Thursday.
More than a dozen farmworkers living in temporary on-farm housing in Kelowna, British Columbia, have tested positive for the coronavirus.
04/16/2020: Homeland Security temporarily amends certain H-2A requirements
The Department of Homeland Security, with the support of the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a temporary final rule to change certain H-2A requirements, according to a news release on April 15.
Under this temporary final rule, an H-2A petitioner with a valid temporary labor certification can start employing certain foreign workers who are currently in H-2A status in the U.S. immediately after United States Citizenship and Immigration Services receives the H-2A petition, but no earlier than the start date of employment listed on the petition. H-2A workers seeking to change employers must already be in the United States and in valid H-2A status.
Additionally, USCIS is temporarily amending its regulations to allow H-2A workers to stay beyond the three-year maximum allowable period of stay in the U.S.
According to the release, agricultural employers should utilize this streamlined process if they are concerned with their ability to bring in the temporary workers who were previously authorized to work for the employer in H-2A classification.
“This Administration has determined that continued agricultural employment, currently threatened by the COVID-19 pandemic, is vital to maintaining and securing the country’s critical food supply chain,” said Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad F. Wolf, in the release. “The temporary changes announced by USCIS provide the needed stability during this unprecedented crisis.”
Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said the USDA welcomes the additional flexibilities. “Providing flexibility for H-2A employers to utilize H-2A workers that are currently in the United States is critically important as we continue to see travel and border restrictions as a result of COVID-19,” he said. “USDA continues to work with the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Labor and the Department of State to minimize disruption and make sure farmers have access to these critical workers necessary to maintain the integrity in our food supply.”
To read the complete news release, go to: dhs.gov/news/2020/04/15/dhs-and-usda-move-protect-american-farmers-and-ensure-continued-flow-america-s-food
04/08/2020: Washington State Department of Labor announces enforcement policy for coronavirus safety violations
The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries has announced it deems coronavirus a known workplace safety hazard and will treat it as an enforceable issue under existing Washington law.
The department sent out an enforcement directive on April 7 with details. It includes portions that pertain to temporary worker housing: lni.wa.gov/safety-health/safety-rules/enforcement-policies/
The enforcement policy comes on the heels of recommendations from the state Department of Health about worker housing. Click here for more information about the Department of Health recommendations.
04/06/2020: United Fresh offers grower guidance for CARES Act program assistance
The United Fresh Produce Association has published some guidance to help growers navigate the programs under the CARES Act, the $2.2 trillion federal economic response to the coronavirus pandemic.
For example, growers may be eligible for several Small Business Administration programs, including the expanded Economic Injury Disaster Loan and the new Paycheck Protection Program.
For more information, visit: unitedfresh.org/coronavirus-fresh-produce-industry-resource-page/
04/06/2020: School districts ask for help getting apples for student meals
Washington school districts have asked for help getting apples for their take-out breakfasts and lunches, after their usual suppliers have suffered some of the same disruptions as grocery stores during the pandemic, according to the Washington State Tree Fruit Association.
For those who want to help, the Tree Fruit Association listed the following numbers:
Yakima School District, Melissa Lim: 509-573-7156
Highland School District, Angie Sanders: 509-961-6782
Selah School District: 509-698-8196
Union Gap School District, Misty Reddick: 509-248-3966
East Valley School District, Stephine Burkett: 509-573-7435
Meanwhile, the food assistance organization Feed the Northwest has asked for donations of both apples and fruit boxes for meal kits. For more information, contact Rod Wieber at 509-252-6259 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
04/01/2020: Federal emergency paid sick leave begins April 1
On March 28, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division published more guidance to provide information to employees and employers about how each will be able to take advantage of the protections and relief offered by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). The act is in effect from April 1 to Dec. 31.
According to a news release from the USDOL, FFCRA will help the United States combat and defeat COVID-19 by offering all American businesses with fewer than 500 employees tax credits to provide employees with paid leave, either for the employee’s own health needs or to care for family members.
New federal posters are now required.FFCRA_Poster_WH1422_Non-Federal-English
More information and resources are available on the USDOL Wage and Hour Division COVID-19 webpage.
04/01/2020: WSTFA makes hand washing video available in English and Spanish
The Washington State Tree Fruit Association has made available a video in English and Spanish showing proper hand washing technique to help prevent the spread of diseases.
04/01/2020: IFTA cancels Washington summer tour; ISHS reschedules
Due to COVID-19 precautions, the International Fruit Tree Association 2020 Summer Study Tour in Washington has been canceled, and the International Society for Horticultural Science orchard systems symposium has been rescheduled for August 2021.
03/31/2020: Industry groups ask USDA for help stabilizing produce market
Tree fruit industry groups have joined a wide network of fresh produce associations in asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture for relief under the $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief act known as CARES.
Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, signed by President Trump March 27, the USDA will receive $9.5 billion in agricultural aid with wide latitude on how to spend it. The CARES Act also includes $14 billion for the Commodity Credit Corporation, a USDA financing institution created in 1933 to stabilize, support and protect farm income and prices.
In a letter Monday, the groups asked U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to use some of the money to stabilize the produce market. Among other items, they ask the USDA to create a database of coronavirus-related losses to all produce suppliers with USDA licenses, send payments to shippers whose struggling food service sector clients have missed payments, and purchase fruits and vegetable that now-closed schools once bought.
Read the entire letter below:Fruit-and-Vegetable-Letter-to-USDA-on-Market-Stabilization-Program-Final
03/30/2020: Domestic FSMA inspections scaled back due to coronavirus
To follow social distancing guidelines in reaction to the coronavirus, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Washington State Department of Agriculture have suspended many of their routine inspections normally required under the Food Safety Modernization Act.
The FDA inspects food producers directly in Oregon, while in Washington, the Agriculture Department does the work on contract with the federal government. The agencies will still respond to outbreaks of foodborne illnesses and concerns of high risk.
For more information, visit the WSDA Food Safety Program’s announcement and the FDA’s announcement regarding routine domestic inspections.
03/27/2020: Washington State Department of Health issues coronavirus guidance for ag worker housing
The Washington State Department of Health has issued guidelines for how to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in temporary agricultural worker housing facilities.
The recommendations include arranging beds “head-to-toe” to allow social distance, discouraging visitors and staggering meal times.TemporaryWorkerHousingGuidance
The advice sheet is one of many documents on the health department’s coronavirus resources and recommendations webpage: doh.wa.gov/Emergencies/NovelCoronavirusOutbreak2020
Also, the U.S. Department of Labor has issued a list of paid leave mandates as part of the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which will apply from April 1 until Dec. 31, 2020. https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/pandemic/ffcra-employer-paid-leave
03/26/2020: State Department expands H-2A waiver eligibility, opening entry to more workers
The U.S. State Department has broadened eligibility for H-2A visa waivers to include more returning Mexican workers and some first-time workers during the coronavirus pandemic.
The announcement, made on March 26, will allow employers and recruiters to apply for waivers for workers returning from Mexico to the United States within four years, instead the normal one year. It also allows them to seek waivers for first-time workers.
Most H-2A workers come from Mexico through the U.S. Embassy in Monterrey. In reaction to the coronavirus pandemic, the embassy last week announced plans to suspend routine visa applications but agreed to continue processing those with a wavier, which exempts the applicant from an in-person consular interview. Those have always been a feature of the H-2A program, but on Thursday the State Department opened it up to a broader pool of workers after discussions with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and some farm labor groups.
Read the entire announcement here: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/News/visas-news/important-announcement-on-h2-visas.html
03/25/2020: COVID-19 aid requested for farmworker housing
In a letter to Gov. Jay Inslee, wafla president Dan Fazio has requested state assistance for growers operating farmworker housing.A PDF of the letter is included below:
03/24/2020: Ag industry associations providing COVID-19 resources for growers
Several farm labor agencies and migrant worker care experts have issued tips and guidelines for how to continue farming while following the social distancing and hygiene rules now required due to the coronavirus outbreak. See our full web update: Agricultural employment essential during COVID-19 crisis
03/24/2020: Research commission’s COVID-19 resource guide is now available in Spanish
The COVID-19 resource guide produced by the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission is now available in Spanish at the Good Fruit Grower‘s Spanish-language website: Go to: goodfruit.com/es/recursos-covid-19-para-la-industria-de-productos-agricolas-de-washington/
03/23/2020: Canadian Produce Marketing Association cancels convention and trade show
The Canadian Produce Marketing Association announced the cancellation of the 2020 CPMA Convention and Trade Show. Click here for the full press release.
CPMA also has a webpage with information and resources concerning the COVID-19 outbreak. Go to: cpma.ca/industry/covid-19
03/23/2020: NOSB Spring Meeting 2020 to be held online
The National Organic Standards Board is modifying the NOSB Spring Meeting 2020 to be held live online, instead of in-person. This will allow the board to move forward with deliberations as scheduled in an open and public setting, without the need for travel.
NOSB Spring Meeting (live online via webinar)
Wednesday, April 29
Thursday, April 30
NOSB Public Comment Webinars
Tuesday, April 21
Thursday April 23
Visit the NOSB website for more details and registration information: https://www.ams.usda.gov/event/national-organic-standards-board-nosb-meeting-crystal-city-va
03/20/2020: wafla reschedules preseason equipment training classes
The preseason equipment training classes offered by wafla have been rescheduled to the week of April 20. The schedule is tentative, based on coronavirus recommendations.
New start times are indicated below. All classes are 2.5 hours.
Monday, April 20 in Yakima — 1:30 p.m.
Tuesday, April 21 in Kennewick — 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. (2 classes)
Wednesday, April 22 in Othello — 9:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. (2 classes, unless the senior center is still closed)
Thursday, April 23 in Wenatchee — 8 a.m.
Thursday, April 23 in Okanogan — 2 p.m.
03/19/2020: Research commission releases COVID-19 resource for the Washington produce industry
The Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission has developed and distributed a two-page update on COVID-19 resources for the Washington produce industry. In an announcement accompanying the document, WTFRC Executive Director Ines Hanrahan thanked Washington State University professor and produce safety extension specialist Faith Critzer for leading the effort to produce the resource sheet.
The document will be updated as needed.
View the PDF below, or click here to download the document in English.
This document is also available in Spanish at: goodfruit.com/es/recursos-covid-19-para-la-industria-de-productos-agricolas-de-washington/March-19th-COVID-19-Produce-Industry-Update
03/19/2020: WSU-OSU Tree Fruit Extension announces the first topic in their webinar series
Washington State University and Oregon State University have scheduled the first event in their Tree Fruit Extension Webinar series. Both universities announced earlier the cancellation of many in-person events, due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Title: Flowering, fruit set, and pollination biology
WSU professor, researcher and extension specialist Matthew Whiting will talk about fundamentals of flowering and fertilization, pollenizers + pollinators, S-alleles and compatibility, and the latest research on environmental effects on flowering and practical strategies for optimizing fruit set.
Date: Friday, March 27
Time: 10 am (Pacific Time)
To register in advance click here or copy and paste the following link in your browser: https://wsu.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_zBafTetQQFeCJ6qvf2hoiw
03/19/2020: WAVE research seminar reformats to live webinar
The Washington Advancements in Viticulture and Enology (WAVE) seminar will take place as originally planned on April 1, but has been reformatted to a live webinar. The event is presented by the Washington State Wine Commission and Washington State University Viticulture and Enology Program.
The WAVE webinar starts at 2 p.m. and will conclude at 4:30 p.m. (PDT). Listeners can log in to watch all five research presentations or join in for selected talks. The live format allows viewers to ask the researchers questions after each talk.
The presentations include:
—Vine water use and management in a changing climate.
—Grape leaffolders, a new pest in Washington vineyards.
—Nematodes and rootstocks.
—Bucket fermentation for potential smoke-exposed fruit.
—Grape maturity impacts on wine quality.
Registration is free but required by March 30 to receive the webinar link. Click here to register for the WAVE webinar.
03/19/2020: Pace International cancels Postharvest Academy
Pace International has canceled this year’s Postharvest Academy, scheduled for May 7 in Cle Elum, Washington. The company said, in a news release, the decision was made after careful consideration and following guidelines from the CDC and Washington state agencies regarding COVID-19.
03/17/2020: Coronavirus slows H-2A visas
The federal government will limit, but not completely stop, processing visas for foreign agricultural guest workers in reaction to the coronavirus.
On Tuesday, the U.S. State Department sent a notice to all employers with pending H-2 applications informing them that the embassy in Monterrey, Mexico, will continue to process visiting workers who have already been to the United States and are therefore eligible to waive the in-person interviews required of new guest workers.
However, government officials ask employers and visa companies to not attempt to make appointments for any new employees or returning workers who require in-person interviews due to law enforcement or immigration violations.
Read our complete update: Coronavirus slows H-2A visas
03/17/2020: U.S. Embassy and consulates in Mexico announce suspension of visa services effective March 18
In response to the global pandemic COVID-19, and in line with the Mexican government’s call to increase social distancing, the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City and all U.S. consulates in Mexico will suspend routine immigrant and nonimmigrant visa services starting March 18 and until further notice. The U.S. Embassy and consulates will continue to provide essential consular services to U.S. citizens as well as emergency visa services.
For the complete announcement, go to: Status of U.S. Consular Operations in Mexico in Light of COVID-19
03/16/2020: Washington State University cancels sprayer demos in Cashmere and Okanogan
In light of the COVID-19 situation, WSU is cancelling the sprayer demos scheduled in Cashmere on March 26 and in Okanogan on March 27, along with many other workshops.
For all WSU Tree Fruit event information, go to treefruit.wsu.edu/events/
03/13/2020: Oregon State Extension Service announces closures and cancellations
Due to COVID-19, Oregon State University has cancelled all in-person extension programming effective March 13. Beginning on March 16, OSU Extension offices in Wasco and Hood River counties will be closed to all public visitors.
OSU has set up a web page for updates and COVID-19 information: oregonstate.edu/coronavirus
03/13/2020: Spanish-language soil health workshop postponed
Washington State University has postponed the Spanish-language soil health workshop scheduled for March 26, due to concerns about the coronavirus outbreak. A new date for the workshop has not yet been determined.
3/12/2020: Sprayer Best Management and Calibration Workshop canceled
From WSU Tree Fruit: All sprayer workshops have been canceled as a health precaution, including the workshop scheduled in the Tri-Cities on March 20.
For all WSU Tree Fruit event information, go to treefruit.wsu.edu/events/
3/12/2020: New Apple Taste Test canceled
From WSU Tree Fruit: The apple taste test set for Spokane on 3/14 has been canceled due to concerns over COVID-19 and public gatherings.
For all WSU Tree Fruit event information, go to treefruit.wsu.edu/events/
3/12/2020: Washington State Tree Fruit Association urges employers to send home sick employees.
There is no evidence that the coronavirus poses a food safety concern, said Jacqui Gordon, director of education for the Washington State Tree Fruit Association.
But it’s paramount that packers tell employees to stay home if they are sick, she said. With regard to the coronavirus, workers cannot safely be reassigned to non-food-contact jobs, she said. Offering more flexibility with sick leave, so that workers can afford to stay home if they are sick, should help.
Handwashing — already a food safety priority — is the best tool for preventing the spread of the coronavirus, Gordon said.
“They need to practice hand hygiene by washing hands for 20 seconds,” she said. Hand washing is more effective than hand sanitizers, she added, but sanitizers are good if there is not easy access to hand washing facilities.
For more information, the Washington State Department of Agriculture Produce Safety Program recommends:
—Washington State Department of Health at doh.wa.gov/coronavirus
—The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at cdc.gov/coronavirus
—Interim Guidance for Business and Employers to Plan and Respond to COVID-19, available at the CDC website.
—World Health Organization, “Getting Your Workplace Ready for COVID-19” [PDF] available at WHO.int.
3/12/2020: Northwest Cherry Growers opt to wait on international marketing efforts.
At the Washington State Fruit Commission board meeting in Yakima on Wednesday, international marketing director Keith Hu said that he’s cancelled all his travel plans for March and April due to concerns about quarantine restrictions. More importantly, he’s taking a wait-and-see approach to the industry’s international marketing efforts.
“Usually, I’m a pretty optimistic guy, but I’m feeling a little pessimistic,” he said, reflecting on all the uncertainty facing international consumers. “We don’t want to spend our money if the market blows up and we can’t sell our product.”
Hu wants to prevent the cherry industry spending money on in-store promotions, for example, in markets that may be totally quarantined and shut down when the cherry crop comes in. So, he added a clause to every marketing contract this season to allow the contract to be cancelled if that particular market is experiencing coronavirus chaos, up until May 1.
The good news is that it looks as though the worst of the virus impacts are subsiding in early-hit China and South Korea, Hu said, so those markets may be stable again by cherry season.