It is vital that the food supply chain in Europe continues to operate as efficiently as possible, and a Lagoa-based farming company is an example of how this can be done with a minimum of disruption despite the coronavirus pandemic.
The food chain in Europe is still struggling, but the company Schroll Flavours is going from strength to strength on its farms on either side of Lagoa, growing, harvesting and exporting crops without too many coronavirus-related problems.
Founded by the resident Danish entrepreneur Brian Knudsen, Schroll Flavours has specialised since 2016 in growing herbs and exporting most of its year-round crop to northern Europe.
The devastation of Covid-19 and the continued imposition of strict emergency regulations in Portugal and other countries has not impacted negatively on the company’s overall output, says Knudsen.
The company lost 90% of its normal wholesale and food service customers but has been able to replace them with supermarket and online suppliers.
“We can’t complain at the moment. We know of colleagues who are in a much worse situation,” says Knudsen.
The food supply chain experienced setbacks from the start of the pandemic in Europe, which sparked panic-buying that emptied supermarket shelves. Shortages didn’t last too long, but the state of emergency rules about social distancing meant reducing the flow of shoppers.
The closure of restaurants, cafés and schools immediately impacted on their suppliers and added to the number of employees suddenly out of work.
Farmers specialising in tomatoes and other salad crops in the central Portuguese province of Ribatejo have been unable to get normal production underway because of a shortage of nursery plants.
Other producers in Europe are currently incensed that large quantities of fruit and vegetables are being flown in from non-European countries, such as South Africa, and Venezuela, while farmers in Europe are struggling to sell their own fresh produce.
The same lockdowns and travel restrictions are hindering relief efforts to prevent vulnerable developing countries, particularly in Africa, from sliding into famine on account of the pandemic.
Of major concern in the United States is that meat packaging plants have been shutting down because the close proximity of employees has caused a high number of coronavirus infections.
Meanwhile, Schroll Flavours’ farm workers in Lagoa have been adhering to the social distancing rules and the farms are closed to all except those essentially delivering or loading goods.
With ideal soil and climatic conditions, including plenty of sunshine backed by adequate irrigation, Schroll Flavours is able to produce all kinds of herbs all year round.
Employees from Portugal, Denmark and India are kept particularly busy picking from March all the way through to January. The harvests are loaded onto trucks in Lagoa and sent across borders without unnecessary restriction to Scandinavian countries, Belgium, France, Germany, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.
The biggest herbal demands abroad are for coriander, basil and Moroccan mint, followed by thyme and chives, with lesser amounts of rosemary and lemongrass.
There is no complacency in any of this. Better days lie ahead. It’s been a firm objective of Brian Knudsen for quite a while and it’s about to be fulfilled. From the end of next month, May, his entire annual crop of herbs will be grown organically.
By LEN PORT
Len Port is a journalist and author based in the Algarve. Follow Len’s reflections on current affairs in Portugal on his blog: algarvenewswatch.blogspot.pt