ISTANBUL (Reuters) - A sharp drop in the price of fruits and vegetables could force Turkish farmers to trim output this spring as the coronavirus pandemic slows exports and reduces the needs of restaurants and shops, food industry executives say.
Turkey, ninth globally in confirmed cases of the COVID-19 disease, is among the world’s top exporters of fresh produce such as tomatoes, apricots, tangerines, eggplants and peppers.
But in March, heading into the planting season, prices dropped 6.6% for fruits and vegetables, according to year-over-year consumer price data. It was the only basket of goods to decline while a broader measure of food rose 10%.
Executives say this is the result of cratering demand in Europe and elsewhere as measures to curb the pandemic have disrupt cross-border supply chains, restrict social movement and tip the global economy into recession.
"Export markets are shutting down due to the coronavirus pandemic (and) it poses a big risk for production. When prices go down too much, farmers do not want to plant," said Ozgur Tort, chief executive of big Turkish supermarket chain Migros MGROS.IS.
“April and May are critical planting months for many farmers. If they have price concerns, many of them might decide not to plant this year,” he said on a conference call Tuesday.
Turkey has so far confirmed nearly 70,000 coronavirus cases and more than 1,500 deaths. To curb the outbreak it has shut restaurants and cafes and delayed hotel openings in vacation hotspots, a move that also pinches demand for fresh produce.
The government has exempted agricultural workers from restrictions including weekend stay-at-home orders, and has acted to ensure planting continues, including donating the bulk of seeds to producers in 21 provinces.
But the pandemic has battered the conveyor belts of global food chains, reducing air freight capacity and the number of sea shipping containers.
Tomato exports have also been squeezed by import restrictions in Russia, a big market for Turkey. Farmers there want a ban to help local producers grappling with the coronavirus fallout.
Yuksel Tavsan, chairman of the Turkish Marketplace Federation, said prices have dropped across the board by some 25-30% including for peppers and eggplant due to sagging exports, with Russian quotas hitting tomatoes.
“If this fall is too much, that isn’t good for producers,” he told Reuters.
“The closures of hotels, restaurants and shops are also influential..., even though rising demand by households balances it somewhat. Prices have more or less fallen to our people’s buying level.”
Additional reporting by Can Sezer and Daren Butler; Writing by Jonathan Spicer; Editing by Mark Heinrich
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