How are Italian growers facing the Coronavirus pandemic?
COVID-19 and the preventive measures implemented by the Italian Government, have deeply changed the lifestyle of all citizens. People can go out only for work reasons, medical needs or proven urgent necessities. Everyone is asked to do their utmost, both in their private and social environment, using all the necessary precautions to face the invisible enemy.
How has Coronavirus changed greenhouse production?
“Our agriculture is basically split in two different scenarios: cut flowers, pot plants, and the hobby market are suffering, while fruits and vegetables are highly requested.”
The impact of Coronavirus in the agricultural sector in Italy is heavy due to prohibitions, precautions and difficulties in supplies. Ornamental plants are facing the biggest crisis ever due to the sudden and lasting lack of sales, whereas the biggest threat for vegetables is the shortage in labour. Both in fields, greenhouses and packaging warehouses. On top of that, the shortage in available trucks and packaging materials are an extra problem to solve.
At the same time, import of food slowed down while retailers increased the demand for fresh produce in order to satisfy Italians’ needs. Therefore, our agriculture is basically split in two different scenarios: cut flowers, pot plants, hobby market is suffering while fruits and vegetables are highly requested.
Coronavirus forces horticulture sector to work smarter
Operating in the soilless industry for over 25 years, Ageon is used to work closely with farmers and offers them advanced growing methods and control tools for optimizing the plant growth in the greenhouses. Soilless growing offers the great advantage of being able to steer the agronomical factors in a greenhouse, such as temperature, humidity, pH, EC and nutrients, according to the requirements of the plants, so that productivity is maximised.
COVID-19 quickly forced Italians to change our habits, and that led companies to suddenly switch to the Smart Working approach. We only had 3 days to adapt to the new setup since it was imposed by the Government. Challenging, but quite some companies succeeded, just like Ageon did.
AgeonTech – our crop advisory bureau – develops and customizes hygiene protocols to reduce and avoid the risks of plant diseases and pests. Soilless growers are already used to AgeonTech’s strict preventive hygiene measures. Hence the switch to the new anti-Coronavirus rules to continue working in a greenhouse was rather handy: workers were already used to wearing gloves, caps and overalls, they just had to put on masks and observe the 1 meter minimum distance between persons. While the latter was not a comfortable change, it is feasible for now, just like in the case of one of our customers Gandini Antonio S.S. Orticoltura Società Agricola.
Source photos: Gandini Antonio S.S. Orticoltura Società Agricola
Checking greenhouse water for Coronavirus
Pushed by Ageon from many years, the ECA water generator is a useful tool to face the lack of disinfectants, the first goods to disappear as soon as Coronavirus cases appeared in Italy. The usage of the ECA water generator, allowed many farmers to keep on growing and working inside the greenhouses with great security for their workers. The onsite self-production of a safe effective disinfectant is extremely useful to observe the very strict hygiene measures both inside and outside the growing and packing areas.
Virtual site visits to greenhouses: remote crop advice
Knowing the plant viruses quite well, Ageon has taken the decision of suspending the business trips and onsite visits, before it was imposed by the Italian Government in order to contribute to stopping the COVID-19 from spreading. But how did we cope with the need of staying home and stop traveling? AgeonTech can benefit from a 17 years of experience on remote crop advice, thanks to the Crop Registration modules that allow “big data” based analyses, and data-sharing in “cloud”. This enabled Ageon to promptly react to the pandemic scenario by even further implementing the on-distance advisory tools offered: we recently launched the “Virtual Visit” service.
A permanent change in our greenhouse business
Our crop consultancy contracts with our customers foresee onsite visits on the basis of a given calendar. Months before COVID-19 appeared in Italy, AgeonTech had already tested a way to visit the greenhouses virtually, 'at a distance'. Therefore we promptly replaced the regular visits with virtual greenhouse visits without having to change much in the already agreed upon calendars. The Virtual Visit offer the appreciated extra feature to split the visits in slices of e.g. 1-2 hours in 2-3 different days instead of the 4-8 hours in 1 day, as we are normally used to when traveling long distances to reach our customers either in Italy and abroad. In doing this, we all are more flexible and the customer doesn’t have to stop all his other activities for half or a full day.
Having seen the success of the Virtual Visits, Ageon plans to propose such service even after the Coronavirus emergency will be over, in order to increase our efficiency on crop consultancy, reducing the traveling time, costs and allowing to reach more customers than in the past.
Everything will be alright!
Nowadays companies are committed to protecting their workers from biological risks, while trying to keep on working as continuously as possible. The present emergency will surely lead to an economical crisis which is already knocking at our door. Nevertheless we start to smell a kind of new common sense that – to a certain extent – suggests Italians that, even if unprepared and exposed to unpredictable difficulties, we are developing a resilience that will give us new awareness, new attitudes and new opportunities to “make it better”.
As Italians are used to say in this difficult time… #andràtuttobene (everything is going to be alright!)
Written by: Vitangelo Di Pierro
Director of AgeonTech by Ageon S.r.l.
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