How COVID-19 & California’s Wildfires are Affecting Produce

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Payton Schreier

The high heat levels tearing through California, along with the horrendous impact of COVID-19 has flipped produce departments upside down.

Not only in the area, but other departments around the world are suffering due to the decline in product and incline in demand. Social distancing has forced factories and production out of business. COVID-19 has taken the world by storm, not only in our homes and personal lives, but in food production.

The high heat levels in California causing the wildfires has had a horrific effect on crops. Row crops, which are mostly grown in California, are foods such as berries, grapes, and stone fruit, are experiencing high quality defects due to the extreme temperatures. Some regions are experiencing 100-degree weather. Other crops being affected are oranges, iceberg lettuce, cantaloupes, and strawberries.

Not only are the crops being affected, but the workers’ jobs and safety. Social distancing has become a major problem for factories, leading to lack of production entirely. Also, because of the high heat, workers must start as early as 3 a.m. in order to beat the heat, cutting their days very short before the afternoon hits.

The crop defects are making product scarce, even with the added precautions of early morning workers. Ash and soot from the fires are now beginning to settle on some of the crops, such as iceberg lettuce. Along with this comes the question of air quality. The workers continue to suffer,

trying to get as much product out as they can, but are also being impacted by the horrid air quality.

Stone fruit calls for warm days and cool nights. These products cannot cool properly because of how high the temperatures are, day and night. There is no longer a cooling period for these fruits, leaving even more damage. This produce then can’t be sold due to the poor quality.

To combat this, crews go out early in the morning and pick the fruit, then store them immediately in coolers.

The quality of these fruits is an issue, but the size of these products are also shrinking. Cantaloupes have begun to shrink in size dramatically compared to their normal bulkiness. Strawberries are also being shrunken down to the point where packaging must be made smaller as well.

COVID-19 has negatively affected the produce departments in the area as well, to the point where some companies had to sign contracts with more producers to keep up with the high demand. Madalyn Hatch, merchandise lead at BJ’s Wholesale Club said, “It affected all of us. We couldn’t even get our own groceries. We would get stuff in and it would just disappear.”

Produce was scarce when COVID-19 first hit. Shelves were wiped clean. With the added loads that eventually came in, it led to quality concerns on how early the product was being picked versus when they should be.

Overall, COVID-19 and the California wildfires have wreaked havoc not only on families and homes, but on the farms and grocery stores as well.