COVID outbreak scuttles 3M pounds of spears
The fallout from a large COVID-19 outbreak in Norfolk County has forced a major producer of asparagus to abandon this spring’s harvest.
Scotlynn Group grows about 400 acres of asparagus annually. Some portions of the crop can be saved but president and CEO Scott Biddle says the majority has got away from him due to the labour disruption and the onset of warm weather.
“We’ve abandoned most of the crop,” Biddle said. “Most of it is overgrown and we will have to bypass it.”
Scotlynn Group is a large diversified food production and distribution company based in Vittoria. It ships its products across North America.
Biddle would not put a dollar value on the loss, saying only that three million pounds of spears will go by the wayside. He added there is no crop insurance for a loss such as this, nor is this a claimable event in terms of business disruption.
The Ontario Ministry of Agiculture, Food and Rural Affairs pegs the 2019 asparagus crop at 16.6 million pounds. The three million pounds lost at Scotlynn represents 18 per cent of last year’s harvest.
The OMAFRA website says the average wholesale price for Ontario asparagus last year was $2 a pound. This would put the loss at Scotlynn in the range of $6 million. This does not include the $700,000 Scotlynn spent housing its migrant workers in hotels during their mandatory two-week quarantine this spring.
With 164 of 221 offshore workers in six bunkhouses testing positive for the respiratory virus last week, Scotlynn issued a call for local workers to fill the void at a rate of $25 an hour.
However, Biddle says most of these workers are new to agriculture and he simply does not have the resources to save his asparagus.
Affected Scotlynn employees will be quarantined and off the job until they are cleared to return to work.
Scotlynn Group will operate with a skeleton crew until then. Biddle hopes his employees return in time to tend to sweet corn, melons and other crops the company has under tillage in the local area.