The hundreds of thousands of farmworkers who harvest fruits and vegetables for U.S. consumers are often taken for granted.
Not this year.
With the escalation of new coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak cases, there are consumer media stories starting to appear talking about unprecedented challenges to the food supply chain because of recent panic buying.
In a Washington Post story headlined “Companies that feed America brace for labor shortages amid worry about restocking stores,” the reporter and sources reflected on possible supply chain disruptions if workers at distribution centers, government regulatory agencies, meat packing facilities and farms are infected with COVID-19..
Field workers weren’t the focus of that article, but I did find a story about H-2A workers at northcarolinahealthnews.org
with a headline of “For migrant workers in NC, coronavirus may be hard to avoid”
The story reported on a March 11 emergency meeting by a group of organizations that serve seasonal and migrant workers.
Speakers at the event, according to the report, said that “farmworkers are used to working through illness and are reluctant to reveal that they are sick for fear of being sent to their home countries before the end of the growing season.”
In addition, the close living quarters for some H-2A workers (as much as 10 to a room) could lead to a rapid spread of the virus.
It is speculative at this point to estimate how much of the North American farmworker population will be infected with the coronavirus COVID-19.
Taking all prudent steps possible (hand washing stations, education, medical services) to prevent infections from happening — and treating/isolating workers who are stricken — must be top of mind for H-2A employers this year.
Italy had about 25,000 coronavirus cases on March 16, compared with about 4,000 in the U.S. and less than 50 in Mexico.
Fruit and vegetable industry leaders in Italy are already talking about the effect of the virus on its farm labor capacity for the summer harvest.
In a story "Labor shortage a major concern for Italy," Fruitnet.com reported that concerns over the spread of the virus are “likely to deter foreign workers heading to Italy from eastern Europe entering the country in the coming months.” That could put at risk harvest of peaches, cherries, strawberries, according to the report.
Look out, here comes tomorrow.