Coronavirus and the crops & horticulture sectors

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Combinable Crops

The situation relating to coronavirus is continuously changing which is expected to bring a new set of challenges to the arable sector. This page will be updated as and when information is available.

Updated: 3rd June 2020 

Red Tractor update 

Red Tractor have issued a technicla briefing that focuses mainly on the new digital grain passports. You can read the briefing here.

Updated: 17th April 2020

Red Tractor Audits 

Red Tractor has issued guiadance on remote assessments for the dairy, pigs, poultry meat and crops sectors here in Wales. You can view it here.

PLEASE NOTE: This guidance DOES NOT cover the beef and sheep sectors here in Wales as they are carried out by FAWL.

Grain Contracts 

An updated version of the COVID grain contract advice document including extra detail for malting barley contract challenges is availalbe for members to log in and view here

Updated 27th March 2020:

Overview

Movement of grain and logistics is an important part of the combinable crops sector, from moving grain off farm, delivering key inputs such as fuel and fertiliser.  Our whole supply chains need to function, keeping parts moving at millers, processors and retail are also key to prevent knock on impacts back to farm. 

Currently logistics in the sector is functioning relatively normally and lorries are benefitting from UK roads being quieter.  There have been some cases of delivery dates for some inputs being longer than they normally would; in most cases this has been due to an increase in demand as growers ensure they have stocks; this is something to consider. 

It is important that we work together to keep our supply chains moving and we carry out best practice where we can. 

Staffing on farm

COVID-19 has caused some staffing issues on farming businesses. At the moment it is relatively low, but we can take some action to try to mitigate the risk. For our sector when this does happen, potentially losing the availability of just one or two members of staff can make a big impact at this key time of year for field work and going forward as we move into the summer. This page includes some sector specific advice on actions that you can take to protect staff on your farm and to support members with practical employment and health and safety related concerns around COVID 19 the NFU’s team of in-house legal professionals have produced a Q&A article which they are keeping up to date.

If you are struggling to find an answer to a specific question, please don’t hesitate to contact NFU CallFirst on 0370 8458458.

Key workers

The government has published its list of key workers, including roles in food production, processing, distribution, sale and delivery as well as those essential to the provision of other key goods (for example hygienic and veterinary medicines). DfE has issued specific advice for childcare for farmers, classed as critical workers, and highlights the need for them to continue work - children of these workers can continue to attend school, college or childcare. Click here for full guidance on this at the Gov.uk website.

There has been an ask for clarity and guidance from members and the wider industry on what documentation employees need from their employers. This guidance is being reviewed now and we will update this when it is available.

Domestic homes

These pages are updated regularly, but please take into consideration the impact of COVID-19 means that the situation is changing rapidly and we are working hard to communicate as an accurate picture the best we can but there will inevitably be some level of time delay in information updates. 

Flour is a staple food throughout the world, and the UK is no different with about 12 million loaves of bread, 2 million pizzas, and 10 million cakes and biscuits made every day. This can be achieved thanks to a daily production of about 14,000 tonnes of flour.? Roughly one third of all the food and drink product lines in a typical supermarket contain flour, so it really is central to the food production system. 

Since the coronavirus disruption we have seen an overall increased flour demand to supply the bakery sector, other food manufacturers and retailers, despite a reduction in trade with the hospitality sector. We have seen panic buying which has supported retail sales of core bread lines and packed flour. Bread and flour products will use varying grades of milling wheat including UK Group 1’s, 2’s and 4 hard varieties of differing specifications.  The spike in sales has not reflected as prominently for some retail cake products which uses soft wheat.  

What we do know at this stage is the flour supply chain is still operating and keeping mills and food processors supplied.  Some millers and bakeries have had the ability to be agile and have taken on retail demand as their service sector business has reduced. 

For feed, there have been some changes in demand dynamics for the livestock, but these sectors are still requiring feed. 

The oilseed rape crushers have been reported to be continuing to operate and take in oilseed rape deliveries, as of 26th March.  As a result of service sector output declining this may impact the demand for some cooking oils. 

Beer and malting barley demand has been more uncertain.  Retail sales for beer (in bottle and can format) has been strong but the closing of pubs has removed a demand for some products such as cask ales, where this format is difficult to be made up for in retail.   This week the sector has welcomed the announcement that off licenses has been added to the list of ‘essential retailers’ and shops attached to breweries have been able to stay open.  There has been an ask to government from some brewers for off sale licenses so pubs can sell beer to take home.  

Drivers and transport 

The government driver flexibility announcement has been widely welcomed. It has now been confirmed that the relaxation of hours covers all sectors. It is key that all parts of the supply chain keep functioning as normally as possible because of knock on effects that can come back down to farm level. Click here for the current guidance from the government

There have been a number of updates, such as changes to MOTs, to read the latest click here.

Input deliveries  

Suppliers have stepped up biosecurity and some have closed sites to non-essential staff. Relaxation of driver hours has helped as some plant operation times have been extended to keep up deliveries and increase flexibility.   

It is important that these processes and deliveries continue at this key time of year with spring plantings underway and the autumn demand not too far away.  We are aware of some delivery times being longer than they normally would due to increased demand.   

We therefore advise that you plan more in advance than normal at this crucial time of year.  Please work and plan with your distributers to help them plan what growers need and when; in some cases, you might agree planned deliveries that are not immediate, but by when you need them.

Impacts on Plant Protection Products (PPPs) and plant health 

Click here for updates as the situation changes and new issues or concerns are identified. The information comes from discussions with industry contacts to assess how processes within the crop protection and plant health area could be disrupted over coming weeks and months. 

Assurance schemes 

Red Tractor have suspended all physical inspections as of the 20 March. They are working on remote inspections and how these will work for both sides of the industry.

Grain contracts

For all grains if you have questions concerning your contracts we recommend that you speak with your buyer/merchant first and you can refer to some of our online resources we have updated:

Grain contracts

For all grains if you have questions for your contracts we recommend that you speak with your buyer/merchant first and you can refer to our contract advice online follow this link to the NFU's advice

Or, call CallFirst on 0370 8458458

Grain collections

  • If you as a farming unit are unable to load grain due to being in self isolation, call your grain merchant or buyer to inform them with as much notice as possible. Please ensure you communicate clearly when your isolation period will end so they can rearrange collection.
  • It is important that the supply chain works together. In the event that a large number of drivers become ill availability of lorries may be reduced, as such if your business is able to give flexibility for grain loading times this could help ease tightness but again needs to be communicated to your buyer.
  • When lorry drivers are delivering or collecting grain we urge you to maintain the 2m rule and to ask them to remain in the vicinity of their vehicles rather than walk freely around the farm or help with loading / discharging. If drivers ask for hand washing facilities please think in advance how you can provide this safely.
  • Make sure not to touch your face and wash your hands after sharing paperwork and don’t share pens.
  • Use signs to politely instruct drivers, postmen, reps and so on, that where possible to stay out of farm offices / confined spaces and avoid unnecessary contact with surfaces.

Other things to consider

  • Wash your hands and sanitise as often as possible.
  • Visitors, deliveries and collections on farm: Avoid direct contact with new entrants on farm. Ensure hands are washed thoroughly before new entrants come onto the farm and use of PPE where necessary. Request prior notification from suppliers where possible and ensure health status awareness. Prior notification will give you the opportunity to communicate if you would prefer not to have a visitor.
  • Consider cross training employees if this is feasible.
  • Ensure that all surfaces that may be shared by entrants onto the farm are cleaned before and after use to prevent spread of the virus.
  • Consider biosecurity protocols such as cleaning types of equipment used by hand.
  • Where possible keep the same people on specific tractors, farm vehicles and equipment.
  • Communal rooms and toilets for farm staff. Ensure there are handwashing facilities available.
  • Check your farm supplies of equipment that might come into short supply, such as dust masks.
  • Keep your distance if contact is needed - 2m is recommended.
  • Communicate with family and friends electronically to keep spirits up.

Horticulture 

Access to labour 

  • Seasonal workers (EU) – movement restrictions, grounded flights 

The most pressing concern is around access to labour, with increased movement restrictions having an impact on some seasonal staff travelling to the UK for the peak season (which coincides with the predicted May peak of the virus). There are reports of restrictions from Poland and difficulties getting flights out of Romania and Bulgaria.  It is expected all flights may be grounded in the coming days. 

The NFU is working closely with government and industry to find solutions to this problem, including the viability of chartering flights, working to include seasonal labour within the ‘key worker’ definition to allow them to continue to travel, and supporting worker sharing platforms, as well as to gather evidence on current shortages and restrictions. The NFU will continue to push this as a priority concern. 

  • Seasonal workers (UK) – redistribution, incentives 

While the NFU is working hard to mitigate the difficulties of getting in EU workers, it is equally critical to mobilise the domestic workforce, particularly during a period where many in sectors such as hospitality or tourism may be experiencing a downturn in demand. 

The NFU is working with industry, including the Association of Labour Providers, to direct interested UK workers towards local work opportunities on farm. We are also working with government to look at ways in which government can support the UK workforce in finding this work, including support with travel and accommodation costs and other financial incentives. 

  • Seasonal staff – pilot workers 

There is concern around the impact the COVID-19 situation may have on Seasonal Worker Scheme Pilot workers. As these workers can only travel to the UK on a 6 month visa there is concern that workers who are already here may be unable to travel home, and workers who are yet to arrive may have movement restrictions. There are also difficulties in accessing visas due to visa offices closing, or being unwilling to pay upfront for a visa that they may be unable to use. 

Working alongside those labour providers who are responsible for operating the scheme, the NFU is calling for a relaxation of these visa requirements to: allow workers to stay beyond their visa length and continue working in the UK if they are unable to return home; allow other workers to arrive early to undertake work now; and for the requirements around accessing a visa to be a relaxed to make them more accessible. The NFU is also calling for flexibility in the roles those workers can undertake to ensure they can fulfil roles as needed. 

  • Key workers 

There was concern that if agricultural and horticultural workers were not classified as key workers then there may be staff shortages for existing staff due to child care requirements.  

The NFU engaged extensively with government on this to make the case for the inclusion of agricultural and horticultural workers within the key worker definition. On 19th March government confirmed that those involved in food production were included as key workers, meaning that they would be eligible for childcare support and their children could continue to go to school. 

The NFU is now working to ensure that this definition is extended to include seasonal workers and allows for the movement across borders of such staff. 

  • Compensation for unpicked crops and contract support 

Growers are extremely concerned that labour shortages will results in crops going unharvested, and some are considering scaling back production. This will clearly have financial impacts, and may also effect contractual requirements. 

The NFU is exploring with Government potential financial compensation for unpicked crops, as part of the wider Government financial package. Guidance on contract requirements from the NFU Legal team is also available here. 

Employment issues 

The virus could also have impacts for staff which are already working within your businesses. The NFU CallFirst team has therefore pulled together a Q&A guide for employers on what they need to do in regard to regulation such as statutory sick pay, self-isolation and protecting your workforce. You can also contact the CallFirst team on 0370 845 8458. 

Policy experts at the NFU are also looking at the potential impacts on working hours, either for those workers who may be unable to work due to illness or self-isolation, or for workers who may need to work additional hours to make up any shortfall. This could particularly have impacts under the Ethical Trade Initiative (ETI) audits or for those workers employed via the Seasonal Workers Pilot. 

Accessible guidance for staff 

As many growers employ seasonal staff from across the EU there are concerns that official guidance may not be accessible to staff due to language barriers.  

The NFU has raised the need for translated official guidance with government. In the meantime there is some translated guidance available here. 

Guidance for outbreaks in shared housing 

While there is advice available for self-isolation requirements (available here) this advice is aimed at normal households, and therefore not suited to the large scale shared accommodation often seen on horticultural farms. Growers need guidance on how best to manage any outbreaks in this housing, and ensure their staff are able to self-isolate properly.  The NFU has raised this request with government to seek official guidance. 

Drop in ornamental plant sales 

Within the ornamental sector, members are already reporting significant drops in sales, and concerns that garden centres may shut.  The NFU is calling for a derogation on the requirement for plant passports to be used in online sales for those businesses that are not currently authorised (e.g. garden centres that usually only sell on site). This will allow those businesses to continue selling remotely to consumers, supporting cashflow, as well as consumers who wish to garden as a way to protect their mental and physical health during the Covid-19 outbreak.  The NFU is also co-ordinating with the rest of industry on initiatives to keep garden centres open and promote the ornamental sector during this time. 

Access to fogging equipment 

There is concern in the potato sector that there may be a shortage of fogging equipment which is used for sprout suppressants in stored potatoes. This equipment is currently in high demand for disinfectants to reduce the spread of COVID-19.  The NFU to engaging with stakeholders from the potato sector on this issue.  

Safety fears around imported produce 

In regard to safety fears around imported produce, both the NHS and European Food Safety Authority have been clear that there is no current evidence that the virus can spread via food or packaging. However, businesses should keep up to date with government advice to understand where changes in policies may have other implications for trade in goods. 

Cross sector issues 

The NFU is also working hard on cross sector issues, such as: supply chain disruption for inputs (e.g. machinery, plants, seeds, fertilised, PPPs, and containers for produce); changes in consumer demand due to stockpiling; farm assurance; access to emergency funds. 

NFU horticulture and potatoes adviser Emily Roads explains how the NFU is working with industry to support the sector through this difficult period. You can read her blog here

Potatoes 

Updates: 1 April

While some potato sectors have seen a huge increase in demand usually only associated with Christmas, others have been severely impacted by the closure of McDonalds, fish and chip shops, and the wider food service industry.

Bagging and chipping markets

Fish and chip shops

The almost blanket closure of fish and chip shops has had a major impact on the bagging sector. Some growers have successfully redirected 25kg bags to local grocery stores where demand has been high. Growers that are unable to do this are encouraged to contact potato packing businesses to sell into the mainstream retail market. Mainstream retailers will not take 25kg bags of unwashed potatoes directly so growers may have to supply in bulk. The NFU is encouraging retailers to relax specifications in order to take potatoes that were originally destined for the food service sector.

McDonalds closure

The NFU is also aware that the closure of McDonalds is having an impact on the supply into McCains, and growers have been approached with a voluntary request to reduce their cropping area. Growers are encouraged to carefully check their contracts and contact NFU Callfirst on 0370 845 8458 if they have concerns.

There is still likely to be hundreds of thousands of tonnes of fresh chipping and processing potatoes that are available. The NFU is in discussions with AHDB to look at ways to support the redirecting of excess stocks of potatoes.

CIPC residues

Be aware that there are different CIPC limits for fresh and processing potatoes. You must ensure that your products meet the MRL and trading standard requirements for whichever supply chain you put them in to. In addition, supermarkets may also impose their own private standards for residue limits which may be more stringent than legal requirements.

Compensation for lost product

As with many crop sectors that rely on the food service sector (plus ornamentals growers that rely on garden centres) we are making the case to government for compensation for lost product. This includes potatoes that were destined for the food service market.

Business support

The NFU is providing an information gathering service on behalf of the agricultural and horticultural industries across the UK to assist the government in building a dynamic and up-to-date picture of the impact that the COVID-19 outbreak is having on farmers and growers. We’ve put together a reporting form that growers can use to provide information on any business-critical issues they have encountered, or expect to encounter, arising from the COVID-19 outbreak. The NFU will log this information and use it in an anonymised format to flag the key issues agriculture and horticulture are facing to government on a daily basis. However, no personal data will be shared with the government. Click here to access the reporting form.

Inputs and transport of seed and ware potatoes

The NFU has heard reports of growers unable to get potato stocks to packers and processors due to a lack of transport availability. Equally there have been reports of difficulties obtaining seed potatoes for the current planting season, with some growers having to travel significant distances with their own transport.

Deliveries are reportedly still coming through for other inputs such as chemicals and fertilisers although there are reports of delays and increased delivery costs. Growers are encouraged to place orders in good time to ensure their timely delivery.

Labour

The NFU successfully ensured that agricultural workers were included under the ‘key worker’ heading, removing some of the immediate concerns over carrying out the day job and without a sudden extra burden of childcare.

There is likely to be pressure put on the permanent workforce due to sickness and self-isolation. Please read the government advice on how to keep workers safe.

There has been an immediate impact on the availability of seasonal workers, due to borders closing and so workers being unable to travel. There has been a large push to recruit UK workers into roles, but there are limitations, such as the workers being inexperienced, and that they are likely to return to previous roles once the crisis reduces. There are also key issues around securing derogations for furloughed workers to be able to pick up these roles without losing their 80% government pay package.

The NFU is therefore also working to secure continued access to EU and non-EU seasonal workers, particularly as the experience of ‘returnees’ is critical to the running and productivity of businesses.

You can read a blog from NFU potato forum chairman Alex Godfrey here. 


Last edited: 09:23 on 03 June 2020

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