After the 'extraordinary' COVID-19 period, things are almost 'back to normal' at REO Veiling in Belgium. "We took measures quickly. So, we, as a cooperative, could keep doing our work," says REO Veiling's Dominiek Keersebilck.
"After the hoarding weeks, demand has somewhat stabilized again. But, not all the products fared equally well. The hospitality products were hammered, which is a pity. We were able to find alternative destinations for some, but not all these products. Hospitality businesses have been open for two weeks now. We've noticed a gradual increase in demand for hospitality products. We aren't yet at pre-crisis levels. The market can, however, change rapidly."
Paul Demyttenaere and Dominiek Keersebilck
Cauliflower and broccoli
"There seemed to be a shortage of cauliflower and broccoli on the market. That was until last week. That happened because cauliflower supplies fell by 30%. The supply of broccoli was also half that of last year. Our region's been through an extremely dry time. But, production in other regions was often hit even harder. That was due to the loss of seasonal workers."
"Uncertain transportation also caused logistical problems. The other regions' supply lines have proved to be unstable. So, it's good that the market can fall back on an auction's centralized, quality product. Of course, these shortages quickly affected prices. At one point, broccoli prices climbed to €4.75/kg. These prices have now stabilized to about €0.75/head of cauliflower and €1.10 for a kg of broccoli", says Dominiek.
"It seems the world stood still for a few months. That was due to the corona crisis. Europe has, however, been communicating about the Green Deal proposal for several weeks now. When you look at the plans for agriculture and horticulture, it's quite comprehensive," says Paul Demyttenaere, a director at REO Veiling. "When I study these plans, I see considerable opportunities for our region. We could take a vital step toward sustainability."
"Considering climate change, our region's climate remains particularly favorable for outdoor fruit, vegetable, and potato cultivation. The West Flanders Agro-Food complex can, therefore, not be overestimated. It has vast technical know-how - from making vegetables and potatoes more sustainable to frozen products. That's in addition to the presence of REO Veiling. We are an important player in the fresh goods market. These factors ensure that Flanders has an unprecedented economic added value."
"Nevertheless, we must prepare for a future that takes into account the weather changes," Paul cautions. "We've been seeing these for several years now. The region gets sufficient annual precipitation. But this is falling in more concentrated periods than before. The government imposes water storage bans in times of extended dry weather too. The available water must, therefore, be better buffered. This must be done by individual companies as well as, collectively, in Private-Public Partnerships (PPPs)."
"Agricultural and horticultural needs - available water - can also be linked to social objectives - flood protection when there's excessive precipitation. Lastly, temporary buffers and reusing water can help achieve Europe's nitrate goals in a workable way. Using the Green Deal resources can allow our region to arm itself for the future structurally. We can then contribute to a sustainable society."
Demyttenaere sees definite opportunities in the Green Deal. But the sector must climb out of the 'trenches'. It must ensure that in 2030, there's still an agro-food complex in West Flanders. It must help meet the existing social and environmental goals. "That means we must move toward large-scale partnerships. Between farmers, their suppliers, and the local government. We must use the Green Deal in the right way."
"Then, our region's agricultural and horticulture sectors have a future. We can safeguard against soil depletion too. We'll also be responding to the social role our sector will play in the future. It's up to the government to consider how the agriculture and horticulture sector can be supported. They must provide social services by making buffered water available. Heavy water taxes will then really no longer be acceptable."
"There's another point on the Green Deal agenda," says the director. "It wants to enlarge the organic share by 20 - 25%. Achieving the Green Deal requires state-of-the-art technological interventions in our horticultural production. The problem? Growing 100% organic products hydroponically, under covers, is being undermined."
"Old-fashioned regulations are hampering technological evolution. Hydro-culture organic cultivation is currently impossible. That's because of legislation. If it were, we could move to growing 70 to 80% of organic products in a protected environment. This must also be discussed under the Green Deal," concludes Paul.