Whereas the Polish fresh fruit and vegetable market developed well in 2017, the estimates for the harvest of 2018 show some interesting developments. For different reasons, both the vegetable and fruit market faced a difficult year in 2018. The vegetable market saw a decrease in harvests due to drought, whereas the fruit sector was faced with large harvests (such as for apples and plums) with subsequent difficulties to match supply with demand resulting in low prices.
In 2018, there were 1,405,700 agricultural holdings in Poland, of which 1,401,800 are private farms. The amount of private farms declined since 2010 with 7%, however the total amount of agricultural land owned by private farms increased in the same time frame by 2%. With respect to regions, the largest average total vegetable harvest volumes in 2015-2017 were in the voivodeship Mazowieckie (14.4%), Kujawsko-pomorskie (13.4%) and Wielkopolskie (12.7%) of the total average volume of 4307.8 thousand tonnes.
Developments of the open field vegetable production differ from the production under cover. In the last 2016 census, there were 71,834 farms growing open field vegetables, and 8,122 farms growing vegetables under cover. The latter declined in number from 2005 to 2016 by 14,577 farms (64%), for all acreages. This heavy decline is attributed to growing energy costs and it being too expensive to modernize existing farms. The open field vegetable farms also declined in number (in 2016 there were 71,834 farms), but this can be attributed to the fact that in 2005, there were many farms with less than 0.1 ha (216,453 farms). In 2016, this number of farms went down to a mere 8,422 farms. On the other hand, the number farms with open field vegetable production on 5 or more ha. increased steadily (with 34%).
In 2017, open field vegetable production managed to surpass the harvests of the previous two years, with a total harvest of 4,583.3 thousand tonnes. But in 2018 however, their harvest was 10% lower than in 2017. This can mainly be attributed to drought. The estimate for 2018 open field vegetable production is 4.1 million tonnes. Vegetables mainly impacted by the drought were onions (575 thousand tonnes, 15% lower harvest than 2017 and substantially lower than the average of 2014-2017 of 629.6 thousand tonnes). In addition to a lower harvest, the quality of the onions was also of lower quality. In 2018 there was also a lower harvest for carrots (-12%), beets (-11%), cabbage (-10%) as compared to 2017. But this total harvest of 2018 is still higher than in 2015, when agriculture was also faced with a long lasting drought. In general, there was a downward trend from 2005-2018 in the total harvest of open field vegetables in Poland (especially with regard to cabbage (2.5% decrease per annum), carrots, beetroots and onions). Imports of fresh vegetables are increasing as well. They mainly include thermophilic vegetable species (tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers), and are carried out in periods in which domestic supply is low. The current expectation is that the Polish vegetable sector will continue modernization, with increasing yields per acreage. But, the consumption of fresh vegetables in Poland will probably not increase, although the sector of frozen vegetables might become more important, as this is a visible consumption trend.
The harvest of vegetables grown under cover increased by 4% in 2018, and has steadily been increasing since 2005, with about 58%. Also in 2018, the harvests saw an increase for all categories of vegetables grown under cover. The harvest of tomatoes was 671 thousand tonnes (+4.3% compared to 2017), cucumbers amounted to 311 thousand tonnes (+5.6% compared to 2017) and the miscellaneous category (with vegetables such as red bell pepper, celery or lettuce) also saw an increase of 2.5% to 188 thousand tonnes. In general, over the years 2005-2018, there were more vegetables grown under cover (on average 4.3% increase per annum).
As a result of the drought, vegetable prices grew. Compared to the first ten months in 2017, the prices for the same period in 2018 showed increases of 50.3% for carrots, 10.2% for onions, 7.8% for cucumbers, 6.7% for cabbage and 6.1% for beets. There was a small decline in the prices for tomatoes (3.3%), cauliflower (2.8%) and lettuce (1.5%). However, the prices seem to follow a cyclic pattern, as the precise opposite trends for these particular vegetables were observed in 2017 (so e.g. increases for tomatoes (13.7%), lettuce (9.3%), cauliflower (8.4%), and decreases for carrots (19.2%), onions (8%), beets (4.6%) and cabbage (3.6%) compared to the year before (2016)). It should be noted that heavy rainfall in 2017 worsened the quality of some of these vegetables and contributed to the aforementioned low prices. Declines in prices can also be linked to the fact that there is a growing Polish consumption of frozen vegetables (from 2014 to 2017 a 14% increase), and a decline in popularity of some of the vegetables. This notably holds for cabbage: people consume 16% less cabbage per person per year in 2017 as compared to 2014. Over a long term period (2004-2018), the prices of the majority of vegetables increased, with the most steady increases from year to year for cucumbers and carrots (5% per year).
On the contrary, the fruit harvest from trees was 70% more than the poor harvest from 2017, resulting from late spring frost. In 2017 the fruit harvest from trees was with 2.7 million tonnes extraordinarily low. In the years preceding 2017, harvests between 3.5 to 4.1 million tonnes were reached. The conditions preceding 2018’s harvest were very favorable for the fruit trees: there was a mild winter, no frosts in spring and the flowering was abundant. The moist in soils increased in September, and the drought itself did thus not impact the fruit trees as much. In 2018, the fruit harvest from trees amounted to an estimate of 4.5 million tonnes. A substantial part of this record fruit production was amounted to cherries (three times higher than in 2017) and apple production increased by 64%. These apples were increasingly used to produce concentrate. The current estimate is 350,000 tonnes of apple juice concentrate produced, which is a record in the past 12 years, and a 29% increase compared to the years 2014-2017.
The record production of fruits came at a price: often, due to labor shortages there were difficulties in harvesting the fruits, and the demand of fruits regularly lacked behind the supply, causing a drop in prices. The actual fruit yields from trees as well as bushes are probably even higher than recorded, since in some cases it was decided not to harvest the fruits as the costs did not outweigh their sales price. This sale price was in some cases lower than expected. Highest fruit prices were seen in the west of Poland, and the lowest fruit prices in the east of Poland.
Investigation of price setting fruit sector
The Polish Office of Competition and Consumer Protection UOKiK, recently investigated the soft fruit market since some purchase prices seemed remarkably low. UOKiK also notices unfavorable purchase conditions in some cases for farmers. Besides the investigation, the 2018 lower soft fruit prices are seen as a result of a few different factors. Import from third countries (such as Ukraine or Serbia, which also causes increased competition in countries where Poland exports soft fruits to), shortage in workers (partially as well due to lessened interest in this particular work field), new legislation on the hiring of workers, and 2018 high temperatures without precipitation.
In general it can be said for the fruit sector that in relation to the prices and the supply, 2018 started a debate on how to match supply better with demand and guarantee a reasonable income for fruit farmers. The expectation is that this debate will be still ongoing in 2019 as well, in which the outcomes of the UOKiK investigation will add an additional dimension.