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Stolen courgettes, big losses and changes in the menus

A touch of frost in Europe

The wintry weather has the European fruit and vegetable sector in a bind. The consequences of the snowfall in Spain and Italy are taking their toll on the sector. After previous reports about empty shelves in British supermarkets, the news regarding the weather's impact hasn't stopped.

Examples include stolen pallets of scarce courgettes and snow on the Spanish Costa Blanca and in Italy which left producers flabbergasted. The weather has also led to Turkish exporters seeing an increase in prices. With all this bad news however, the silver lining are all the impressive photos of the snowfall.

Source: Al-Arbuli SCA - Twitter

Traders are trying to get produce from Morocco and Tunisia after circumstances have made it more difficult for the Turkish supply. The weather isn't the only trouble though. One British importer even said that some products imported from Turkey exceeded the EU's MRL limits. With demand increasing and supplies low, importers are looking also to other places, flying in iceberg lettuce from the US and peppers from Mexico.

Source: Alcachofa de Espana - Twitter

Considerable shortages expected in Italy
According to a report from Aiipa-IV Gamma, the winter weather will also cause serious problems to the industry. It is expected that the supply for the processing industry could fall. King Winter rules with an icy hand especially in central and southern Italy. The exceptional snowfall in those areas is taking a toll on many crops, including arugula. Sea lavender and spinach are also suffering badly. Moreover, the cold is slowing the growth of other crops. That means that the delays in supply will last longer, making it difficult to predict when the situation will return to normal.

In northern Italy, major problems are expected with the supply of sea lavender. These problems will continue in the coming weeks. The supply of lettuce is also difficult because of floods in Spain.

Source: Viveros Caliplant - Twitter

Source: Viveros Caliplant - Twitter

In the Bari region, in Apulia, the damage is wide reaching. A trader said that the whole fennel and courgette harvest has been lost. For parsley, celery and other crops they are reporting losses of 20 to 50%. Due to the low supply, prices in the market have increased. "The snow has melted and therefore we were able to make the first assessment of the losses," states a trader. The leaf crops have been completely lost under the weight of snow and frost. "It is uncertain what the consequences will be for the new production, which should reach the market in March/April." According to Italian media, there will be price speculation, but the trader has firmly rejected this information. "We will supply as much saleable product as possible and the higher prices should help us offset the damage. The smaller volumes entail that only 20% of the demand will be met. For many retailers, the situation is still uncertain, although they won't be able to ignore the consequences of the losses."

Source: Angel G.S. - Twitter

In southeastern Sicily, 60% of the courgette production has been lost, and tomato crops have also been affected. The current shortage in the supply and the rising prices is mostly a result of the smaller acreage. Many people had forgotten that last season was very bad, with an average price for cherry tomatoes ranging from 60 to 70 cents. That resulted in bankruptcies in the sector and a sharp decline in the acreage.

Source: FrutasMoraEspartinas - Twitter

Source: FrutasMoraEspartinas - Twitter

Snow in Spain
The situation in various regions of Spain is worrisome. The temperature in Granada plummeted this week from 17 degrees Celsius on Tuesday down to 6 degrees Celsius on Wednesday. In any case, the snowfall in that region was nothing compared to what we've seen in Murcia. "There was already very little trade and this will make things even worse in the coming days," explains a trader.

Spanish fields earlier this week. Source: VEG-UK Ltd - Twitter

Not only frost and snow are playing tricks on the Spanish sector. Source: VEG-UK Ltd - Twitter

In Costa Blanca, the situation is also worrisome. Snow has fallen across the region, even in places like Torrevieja, where snow never usually falls. The sector had not yet fully recovered from the losses recorded before Christmas. Broccoli and cauliflower plants were washed away and now the new plantings have also suffered damage. As for lettuce, the impact of the rain and cold resulted in a huge increase in prices.

In Valencia, citrus growers are concerned about the impact of the weather on the second half of the season. Even vegetables like beans and artichokes are threatened. The weather may cause serious damage to orange crops, as reported by the Valencian Association of Agriculture (AGM). The growers were hoping for better prices in the second half of the season, but the frost could freeze that hope.

Source: VEG-UK Ltd - Twitter

For some fruit trees, however, the lower temperature may also have a positive impact.

Overall, estimates point to the loss of about 20% of the harvest. To recoup the losses the AGM has called on the government to intervene and has threatened to organise protests if no aid is granted.

Turkey benefits from higher prices
Turkish exporters are seeing prices increase and consider this a good opportunity to export. Tomatoes, courgettes and aubergines have become significantly more expensive. Below an overview:

Product Price week 1/per quantity Price today/per quantity
Courgette 8 Euro / 5kg 15 Euro / 5kg
Tomato 7 Euro / 5kg 10-13 Euro / 5kg
Aubergine 10-11 Euro /6 kg 20 Euro 6 kg / 6 kilos

The value of the Turkish lira has fallen against the Euro, which makes exports more attractive. One trader reports receiving orders from Scandinavia and the Netherlands. "The market is running very smoothly," said an exporter. He explains that normally only 1 to 2 trucks with tomatoes go to the Netherlands and Sweden. Now this figure is up to 5 trucks per week.

Source: VEG-UK Ltd - Twitter

The snowfall in Eastern Europe is also causing delays on the road. At border crossings like Kapikule and Hamzabeyli (between Turkey and Bulgaria) and Ipsala (between Turkey and Greece), traffic is slower due to the snow. The snow has also caused trucks to get stranded at border crossings. The Red Cross is assisting the drivers, some of whom have been given blankets and food for a few days.

Source: Belsan - Twitter

Source: Belsan - Twitter

Source: Belsan - Twitter

British caterers to the supermarket; courgettes stolen
A British trader reports that wholesale markets are being ignored by the country's catering suppliers, as the prices in supermarkets are more attractive than those on the wholesale markets. Citrus fruits have also recorded price increases, but not as sharp as those of lettuce, aubergines and courgettes. "I heard yesterday that three pallets of courgettes were stolen from a depot in London. If you take into account that three pallets of courgettes have a value of £ 11,000 and you can sell the product quickly, you will understand that it is attractive for criminals to steal vegetables to get fast money," affirms a trader.

Shortages have led to changes to the menus of major restaurant chains. Normally, new menus are planned weeks in advance, but now changes have had to be quickly made. Leeks, courgettes, peppers or aubergines have to be replaced for white cabbage, red cabbage, savoy cabbage, carrots, potatoes and parsnip. "The situation will continue for 6 to 8 weeks and shortages will persist. Our Spanish supplier emailed to inform that he was only able to ship 9 pallets of broccoli from an order of 26 pallets."

Source: VEG-UK Ltd - Twitter

The situation is also worrying for British traders. A trader tells they have lost some major customers because they could no longer fulfill the contracts. Relying on 'force majeure' and on media reports on the situation in Spain, the company decided it could not endure any more losses. This resulted in at least one subpoena by a major multinational customer.

No euphoria among Dutch growers
At the moment, Dutch growers are only partly benefiting from the higher prices. "Everything you have, you can sell, but we don't have a lot of supply right now," affirms lettuce grower Paul Liege. "The bulk of the crop is already sold. Those prices are fixed; you cannot just change that, if only it wasn't so!" Nico Kooijman points out that there is currently interest in his regular and curly endive. "It also grows much slower here, so we do not have a lot of supply, maybe just a few pallets per day. That figure will only increase in the spring. But if plantings are underway in Spain now, they will have produce again in about 5 to 6 weeks."

In the store, heads of iceberg lettuce are currently reaching prices of up to 2 Euro. Grower Henk van Doorne, of The Hague, has 80,000 heads of lettuce in his greenhouse, which are thus currently worth close to 160,000 Euro. "Last year, I got 15 to 18 cents per head; now the price per head is 55 to 60 cents. These prices will compensate for last year's financial gap," he explains. Henk says that it makes no sense now to fill his whole greenhouse with lettuce seedlings. "A small plant takes at least eight weeks to become a mature crop. By then, the market will have long changed and I won't longer be able to take advantage of the good prices paid right now."

Source: cmesjo - Twitter

Irish put pressure on the Spaniards
"For the past few weeks we have been keeping the pressure on our Spanish suppliers to fill our orders, which they have been doing. We have alerted you to certain lines already, but now it is all products. Our suppliers can only try to meet our orders by buying any produce available around them."

"Aubergine and courgette are very hard to find, practically non-existent from Spain, and the Italian tunnel production was hit by snow last week. Morocco may have some production but they can't supply the whole of Europe. You can get these products, everything has its price, but at 20-30 Euro for a 5kg box it is just not feasible. Carrots, turnips and parsnips, which are grown in Ireland and the UK, are doing fine, but people want peppers, tomatoes, iceberg lettuce, cucumbers and broccoli - all these Spanish products are just non existent"

Canada: very cheap supply from Mexico
Due to a good season in Florida and Mexico there is a big supply in these areas. A Canadian importer said: "After the high prices last season many growers have planted more hoping to earn more money." This has resulted in a dramatic situation on the Canadian market for peppers, aubergine and tomatoes. "I am being offered 25 dollars from Spain and can get them from Mexico for 2 dollars. We are hoping a bit of balance will be restored and we can make some money."

Cold weather in the US
The US is also battling cold weather. Due to this, and other issues there is less courgette production than normal, according to one trader. He also states that production from Mexico is also lower. He said that a colleague in Canada was importing very cheap courgettes. The American importer is moving between supply from Honduras and The Dominican Republic.

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