Spain: Huelva's berry campaign characterized by uncertainty amid Covid-19
The berry season in Spain's key growing region has been hit by uncertainty amid numerous challenges stemming from the Covid-19 pandemic.
The industry in the southwestern municipality of Huelva is dealing with issues related to logistics, unfavorable market conditions, and a likely labor shortage, according to Cristobal Picon of the Andalucia Agricultural Cooperatives' Berry Working Group.
Picón told FreshFruitPortal.com that the Covid-19 outbreak has created many difficulties for the blueberry, strawberry, raspberry and blackberry industry since the berry season began with some categories around January.
Concern was heightened at the start of the year due to the situation in China, he said. Around February, demand from supermarkets was lower than what had been expected, as well as the prices the fruit was fetching.
"We then went into a State of Alarm, under which we couldn't get more workers, and orders began to reduce as the season was gathering pace. So we were faced with low prices and fewer kilos to sell," he said.
The closure of borders in Europe, he explained, had a huge impact on labor availability in the sector, as workers coming from the likes of Morocco, Bulgaria and Romania couldn't enter the country.
"Job offers are being made and there are people that are replying to them, but a lot fewer than what the industry really needs," he said.
He noted that so far the labor issues had not been too severe as the blueberry season had not yet started.
"We've been able to pick raspberries and strawberries, but when the blueberry season starts in mid-April, we will be harvesting all our berries, and so there we could have a labor shortage. There's so much uncertainty for the campaign," he said.
However, he emphasized that the Spanish Government is taking some measures to help, such as contacting people who have been left unemployed from other industries and offering them work picking berries.
Picon also said he was very thankful to the whole industry for the extra effort it has been making over recent months to keep operations going.
"I want to highlight the effort of the whole supply production and logistics chain, from farmers and workers in the field and packinghouses to distribution centers to stores and points of sales," he said.
"Farmers and farmworkers are going about their work day by day with great responsibility and this needs to be recognized," he said.
In addition, he said the industry has implemented maximum safety measures, following the strictest recommendations. In any case, the municipality of Huelva has seen very few cases of Covid-19, he said.