Forgotten vegetable loses out to tomatoes and imports from India

Cucumber production in Poland is becoming less profitable

Consumers in Poland are increasingly less likely to buy cucumbers, mostly because of the expansion of tomatoes. Cucumber production is becoming less profitable due to the long-term stability in the size of cultivated areas, and the growing power of cucumber production and processing in India.

Too many old greenhouses
The area of cucumber cultivation in Poland is relatively stable, growing or shrinking slightly year on year. Last year, this area grew from 13,900 to 14,600 hectares, as reported by the Central Statistical Office. The last cucumber boom was in 2014 when 15,300 hectares were allocated to cucumber cultivation. But this isn’t always reflected in the yield - the weather is the deciding factor. Last year, over 245,000 tons of cucumber were harvested. Production under covers, i.e. in greenhouses and under tunnels, results in a greater yield, but then the area under cultivation decreases. In 2018, 293 tons were harvested from over 1,100 hectares.

"The production of outdoor cucumbers is declining over the long-term, and is being replaced by greenhouse and tunnel cultivation. A large part of the yield is contracted for processing, so there are no drastic reductions or price jumps, such as those experienced by producers of currants, raspberries or apples," said Mariusz Dziwulski, an expert at the PKO BP bank.

But greenhouse cucumbers are not very profitable either. "We had cucumbers in greenhouses, in a horticulture farm in Siechnice, but we replaced them with tomatoes. They required additional equipment, but you can earn better from tomatoes. Cultivation is more demanding, but demand is larger. There are a lot of old cucumber greenhouses on the market, long-amortised, rarely investing in new solutions, and instead, lowering prices. Thus, for modern cultivation, tomatoes are a better option," said Rafał Zarzecki, vice president of Citronex Group.

Demand for cucumbers: steady, but not great
Consumption of cucumbers in Poland, especially the processed ones, is not spectacular. It oscillates around 6 kg per person per year - reports the Institute of Agricultural Economics and Food Economy (IERiGŻ).

"Cucumber loses out because of the larger offer of other vegetables, and because it is associated with times long gone, when there was nothing to choose from," added Bożena Nosecka from IERiGŻ.

However, there are still the preserves, i.e. pickled or sour cucumbers. In this market, Polish growers could have more success with exports (in the case of fresh cucumbers Poland is a net importer).

Unfortunately, this is only theoretical as, although sour cucumbers are a regional delicacy, in the more universal segment of pickled cucumbers, India’s significance is growing, even in Poland.

"They are the largest producer and their exports to Poland are constantly growing. Some of the cucumbers leave the country after packaging," says the IERiGŻ expert.

Eurostat data shows that imports of pickled cucumbers from India increased from 990,000 euro and 134 tons in 2013, to almost 3.3 million euro and 419 tons in 2018.

Giant in production, small exporter
Poland is the second biggest producer of cucumbers in the European Union, according to the National Center for Agricultural Support (KOWR), with only Spain ahead of it. Poland is also 11th in the world. In the structure of vegetable production in the country, cucumbers are fifth - after cabbage, tomatoes, carrots and onions. KOWR analysts emphasise that cucumbers are primarily used in Poland in the food industry and for direct consumption, which means that their sales abroad are relatively small (fluctuating around 9,000-16,000 tons per year), or 2-3 percent of what they produce.


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