Poland - another apple season is coming - what awaits fruit growers and how to prepare?
The activity of many industries in the current situation related to the global COVID-19 outbreak is put into question. The fruit and vegetable sector is no exception. Fruit growers faced many challenges in 2020 during the first and second waves of the pandemic. According to Fruit Union experts, for fruit and vegetable producers, 2021 will be another year dedicated to conquering new markets and presenting Polish fruit on the international stage, but it will also be another year of dealing with ever-increasing costs in the sector. Fruit growers may also feel the consequences of the blockade on the Suez Canal. What else awaits fruit growers and producers in the 2021 apple season?
Growth in fruit and vegetable consumption
The latest findings of the Consumption Monitor by Freshfel Europe, show that year on year, EU residents are consuming more and more fruit and vegetables. In 2018, their net per capita consumption in the EU at 363.76 grams per day. Compared to 2017 figures, we see a 4 per cent increase, but it should be noted that the WHO recommended daily intake of fruit and vegetables is 400g. Of the 28 EU member states, residents of 7 countries consume 400 grams or more as recommended by the WHO - Poland is one of these countries. In 2018, the average per capita consumption in Poland was 232 and 221 grams per day, for a total of 453 grams per day.
During the pandemic, a change in shopping habits and a return to larger purchases was observed. Consumers are stockpiling and, as a result, sales of products with a long shelf life, such as onions and potatoes, are increasing. According to the "National Vegetable and Fruit Consumption Survey" commissioned by the National Association of Producer Groups of Fruit and Vegetables, Poles have not developed adequate habits in the context of a balanced diet. According to experts, vegetables and fruit should make up at least half of what we eat, yet only 13 per cent of Poles declared that they met this condition at the beginning of the year. More than half of Poles have a diet too poor in vegetables and fruit.
"We hope that the trend of increasing fruit and vegetable consumption will continue. The pandemic has become an impulse to improve our diet, society has turned its attention to fresh produce and a diet based on fruit and vegetables which have a positive impact on our health and immunity," Paulina Kopeć, Secretary General of the Fruit Union, points out.
Limited export opportunities, rising production costs, labour shortages, low margins, increased labour costs and ever-increasing transport costs are all impediments that make the COVID-19 pandemic a particularly difficult time for fruit and vegetable producers. During the pandemic, there were additional costs of safety procedures put in place, as well as trade restrictions and barriers to movement. In addition, electricity is becoming more expensive again in 2021. The price rises are due to high penalties for CO2 emissions. Unfortunately, the forecasts are not optimistic and assume further increases in energy prices. In addition, you also have to reckon with price increases for packaging, plant protection products and production insurance.
The effects of the regulation of European trading standards. How to complement them with sustainability aspects?
According to the European Commission, the implementation of the "Green Deal" and "From Farm to Fork" biodiversity strategies is meant to bring nature, farmers, companies and consumers together in a joint effort for future sustainable competitiveness. The fresh fruit and vegetable sector has the task of supplying the EU market with the highest quality produce to ensure a healthy and varied diet for Europeans. Many factors, such as climate or pests affect the final quality of fresh produce, so certain marketing standards are adopted that set minimum requirements for product quality, but also facilitate intra-EU and international trade. These arrangements also take into account the logistics of trade and contribute to meeting consumer needs. Thanks to them, products on the market are subject to the same standards, which ensures fair competition.
Experts from Freshfel Europe highlight the need to harmonise the definition of 'sustainability' and what constitutes a 'sustainable product', as there is currently no common explanation of these concepts at EU level. It is therefore crucial to add sustainability aspects to existing marketing standards. In addition, it is necessary to base these standards on concrete environmental analyses and a solid scientific basis. One of the concerns with extending marketing standards for fresh produce to include sustainability aspects is also the risk that the costs of checking for these criteria will be borne by the supply chain, which will translate into increased prices for consumers. In its strategic plan, the Fruits Union made a proposal on biodiversity, the aim of which is to take action to increase the scale of application of biological crop protection in Poland - the recommended solution is co-financing in the form of a national programme supporting biological treatments. The RO experts are keen to implement biological methods against pests and plant diseases, as organic farming is a practice that should be further developed. Sustainability should be based on measures that emphasise its beneficial effects on the climate and environment, but also focus on climate change mitigation, biodiversity, sustainable water and soil management, and economic and social factors.
What will be the prices of apples in 2021?
Polish apple prices are generally lower than in Italy and France. Higher prices are obtained for desirable varieties of high-quality apples. Higher prices for both growers and producer groups or private companies will be helped by correctly counting the costs of preparing an apple for sale.
Despite the overall good situation in the fresh produce sector, there is some disruption in the processing market. A relatively higher proportion of apples of lower quality and those damaged by extreme weather events have been observed, which for this reason, can only go to industry.
"In February, stocks of apples in cold storage were around 50 per cent higher than last year's levels at this time of year. Unfortunately, the quality of apples in cold storage is not satisfactory and much of it is destined for juice or other processing. For basic apple varieties, prices have been stable for many weeks," explains Dominik Woźniak, Rajpol Owoców Producers Group, member of the Owocowa Union
Consumption surveys show that the apple remains the most popular fruit in Poland. The best-known varieties are Idared - estimated to take 19 per cent of the harvest, Szampion, Ligol, Jonagold, Golden Delicious, Gala and Red Jonaprince. Orchard owners also point to the attractiveness of the more difficult-to-grow Gala Royal, which is popular abroad. However, growers should remember that demand for distant markets is highest in the first half of the apple trading season, i.e. until February/March, so it is not worth delaying sales as competitive markets pose a threat.
According to estimates, in the 2019/20 season, the main outlets for Poland were Belarus with 149,000 tonnes exported, Egypt with 83,000 tonnes and Romania with 67,000 tonnes. Important outlets are European countries. It should be noted, however, that countries in Africa and Asia, such as India, Vietnam or the United Arab Emirates, are becoming prospective markets for Poland. However, the markets of Turkey and Iran, which are close to these countries, are competitive for us. Therefore, it is worth constantly emphasising the exceptional quality and advantages of Polish apples.
How will the weather affect this year's season?
Extreme weather conditions in Europe and some irregularities in temperature fluctuations have been observed from 19 January to 18 February 2021. Poland is experiencing a shortage of precipitation, which could lead to drought in the long term. The 90-day analysis of weather conditions in Europe shows that Polish orchard areas are suffering from a soil moisture deficit. Drought in orchards can lead to serious losses, so orchard owners should prepare for it now.
The role of producer organisations in meeting the challenges of 2021
In the era of the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in, among other things, unexpected additional labour, production and transport costs, producer associations help farmers communicate with government institutions and agencies by representing their interests and developing solutions and addressing demands at national and EU level. By improving technical facilities, farmers can continuously improve the efficiency of their farms. Organisations are the bargaining power of farmers when negotiating with other actors in the food sector - large retail chains and wholesale buyers. Unia Owocowa is actively involved in promotional and educational campaigns, e.g. in the #wybieramPOLSKIEjabłka initiative, as part of which, in cooperation with partners from the industry, UO has developed a Report "Trends on the Polish Orchard Market 2020", which describes in detail the current situation in the industry. The Report is complemented by the brochure "Good neighbours cooperate" on the topic of neighbourly cooperation as a basis for solving common problems of fruit growers.
"The coming season will also be full of challenges. The situation on the Suez Canal has caused us concern, as it may result in higher sea transport costs, but has also made it much more difficult to export apples to Asian markets. It is estimated that around 10 per cent of the world's trade is transported via this route, which equates to several billion dollars in losses during this outage. 2021 is a year that will bring a new trade relationship with the UK after Brexit and further pandemic challenges. We hope that it will also be a year of conquering new markets and promoting Polish fruit on the international arena," announces Arkadiusz Gaik, President of the Owocowa Union