The strawberry beds look colourful and fresh, rows of red tasty and strawberries hang from bright green plants. Nature is looking good, but unforeseen factors have interrupted the busy routine of the Spanish strawberry season. The growers are experiencing additional harvest obstacles, as well as some challenges to ensure delivery to customers as a result of the COVID-19

José Antonio Martín, founder of the Agromartín farm, is a trusted supplier of strawberries from the Andalucían province of Huelva and has been delivering produce to EU and non-EU markets since the 1990s. Since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, our suppliers have been experiencing unprecedented issues this harvest season so as a company, we hope to raise awareness of the challenges they face by sharing their stories with our customers, employees and other stakeholders.

This harvest season, labour shortages are presenting the biggest hurdle for Agromartín in terms of delivering produce. “The cultivation of crops, from an agronomic point of view, is continuing at full production without any problems,” states José. “The issues we are experiencing are more to do with the availability of workers and being able to actually harvest the berries. Normally, we employ approximately 1,500 people each season to harvest and pack fruits, but due to closed borders, many foreign workers haven’t been able to reach Spain. We are hoping to fill the gap by employing local workers from sectors that have been forced to shut down due to the virus.”

On the farm, every precaution is being taken to provide a safe workplace. “Maintaining the correct distance between workers both on the farms and in packhouses, as well as the use of gloves and a rigorous handwashing regime, is essential,” José comments. “We regularly disinfect machinery and transport vehicles and take the temperature of all employees before they enter a facility. To date, we have not detected any symptoms among our staff.”

Although vital, these hygiene and social distancing measures are creating mobility issues. In all forms of transportation a 1.5m distance must be maintained, severely decreasing bus capacity and meaning that three times the number of journeys are now needed to take the same number of people to the field. These restrictions, combined with a shortage of trucks, have caused transport costs for people and produce to rise by over 25%, especially for international deliveries.

In light of these increased operational costs and declining demand from the local fresh produce market, many smaller producers in Huelva are clearing their fields early. For larger farms such as Agromartín, the immediate next steps remain uncertain. “If the financial situation becomes more severe, we will have to consider clearing our fields before the end of the harvest,” states José. “But as this will affect the availability of fruit to our customers, we are trying our hardest to keep going.”

This year will be challenging. For dedicated farmers like José, however, the goal is to get all strawberries off the field and to the customer, preventing nature’s goodness from going to waste.

“Now, more than ever, we need large companies to support farms and celebrate the work of agricultural producers. We always make a great effort, even more so in the current circumstances, to guarantee the population an uninterrupted supply of high quality, healthy food,” comments José. “Fortunately, for now my family and workers are in good health. We cannot forget that, in the midst of this crisis, that is the thing that counts.”

Keeping the supply chain moving
Here at SVZ, we believe it is only by giving farmers a voice that we can raise awareness of how the agro supply chain needs to work together – now, more than ever. It’s by starting the conversation that we can, where possible, provide practical help to our suppliers in these turbulent times. If you’d like to find out more about how we’re helping to keep the supply chain moving, get in touch with us today.

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