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Crops Decay In Fields Amid Global Lockdown

Sun-bleached orange tomatoes on a dying vine.

An unraveling food system has left many farmers without options for crops that are ready for a shuttered market. (pxfuel/CC)

An unraveling food system has left many farmers without options for crops that are ready for a shuttered market.

Farmers and food systems are reeling from worker shortages and gaps in the supply chain as people around the world cloister in isolation.

The U.S food system has shown signs of collapse, as processing plants close their doors and farmers are stuck with billions of dollars worth of unusable product.

In Wisconsin, dairy farmers have been forced to flush milk down drains. About a third of the state’s dairy products, mostly in the form of cheese, are sold in the shuttered food service industry.

In Florida, winter crops sold to restaurants have been left to rot due to lack of buyers. The Palm Beach Post reported in late March that losses of blemish-free “fancies” were down by half, with farms hemorrhaging thousands of dollars per day in lost product.

The national fallout could amount to as much as $1.32 billion from March to May, according to a National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition report.

U.S. farmers rely on hundreds of thousands of Mexican workers who get visas to work seasonal harvests. But consulates in Mexico have been shut down. Labor intensive crops like strawberries, tree fruits, and crops pollinated by bees are among the hardest hit by shortages of workers.

Farm workers who harvest crops during the pandemic face huge risks working in jobs with few protections or opportunities for social distancing. That prompts many to stay at home with families rather than risk exposure.

European crops like asparagus in Germany, strawberries in France and tomatoes in Italy depend on workers from countries like Poland, Romania and Bulgaria. But stricter borders are limiting movement, and many workers are choosing not to travel to keep risks down.

France’s agriculture ministry has called for a “shadow army” of hotel and restaurant service staff to march into fields and take over critical harvesting duties.

India’s food system started unraveling in March as a national three-week lockdown took delivery trucks off the road, scuttled demand, and left the country’s peak harvest season suspended with bumper crops from last year’s monsoons rotting on the vine.

The country will depend on its abundant stockpiles of staple foods, and a $22.6 billion package to pay for rations for 800 million people.

A 2006 World Bank report predicted that a pandemic similar to the 1918 Spanish flu would result in a 0.9 percent loss in GDP because of sick workers, compared with a 1.9 percent loss linked to policies enforced to control infection.

Read More:

‘A Disastrous Situation’: Mountains Of Food Wasted As Coronavirus Scrambles Supply Chain (Guardian)

Migrant Farmworkers Whose Harvests Feed Europe Are Blocked At Borders (New York Times)

Coronavirus Border Closures Are Threatening Europe’s Food Supply (Washington Post)

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