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

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

Click here to download the PDF.

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:
2020.03.24-Gov.-Inslee-TWH-COVID-Aid


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.