As a heatwave sweeps across Europe, bringing scorching temperatures in many places, the popular summer vegetable, cucumber, has reached prices, almost double those recorded last year in some countries. High demand and lower supply in many production areas due to the hot weather have been the two main factors in this significant increase in price. Growers, however, are unlikely to profit, as the rise in production costs, which still shows no sign of slowing down, has put significant pressure on the margins across the board. In the Netherlands, this has brought into question the profitability of turning the lights on for winter cultivation, and in the US, the retailers seek to combat the high cost of fuel by focusing on the closest possible production.
The Netherlands: Firm prices in first weeks of July
Temperatures were very high in the Netherlands this week, with the mercury just touching 40 degrees Celsius. Prices for this usually popular greenhouse vegetable in summer, are also high, above average for this time of year. Since the end of June, the cucumber price has been on the rise. In weeks 27 and 28 the average price at the Flemish auctions was just under fifty euro cents each. This week too, prices remain high. The market is pointing to good demand from the United Kingdom and lower domestic production there as the reason. Various Dutch and Belgian growers are also changing cultivation at the moment.
In the middle of the summer, discussions about growing cucumbers in the winter are still ongoing. In recent years, the cultivation of exposed winter crops in greenhouses has increased steadily, driven by demand from the retail sector. With the current high energy prices and pressure from society and politicians, where one opposition party even called for an end to the cultivation of cucumbers in winter, the retail sector seems reluctant to commit itself firmly to the cultivation of exposed winter crops again. On the other hand, growers are looking at the current high energy prices and saying that a lighted winter crop cannot be justified unless the price of a cucumber also goes up dramatically.
Another concern for growers is the return of the Cucurbit Aphid-Borne Yellow virus (CABYV), first discovered last year. Last year, the virus spread massively in the Netherlands and last month it reappeared. The production of infected plants is declining sharply. The virus pressure is also high in tomato cultivation. Several growers switched from that crop to cucumber cultivation recently. In those cases, it is a high-wire cucumber crop.
Germany: Availability was sufficient to cover demand
The assortment consisted of Dutch, domestic and Belgian offers. Availability was sufficient to cover demand. The quotations did not show a clear line: Overall, they tended to go up rather than down. However, the changes were all limited. In southern Germany, higher purchase demands were passed on to customers. In the north, traders lowered their volumes to speed up sales somewhat. Mini cucumbers from the domestic market, Turkey and the Netherlands were quietly handled. Diverging prices were recorded here as well: The German cucumbers became cheaper overall, those from foreign countries somewhat more expensive.
Italy: Demand remains higher than supply
In northern Italy, the cucumber is enjoying a very favourable market. The weather trend has affected yields, lowering them, but prices are very high. This is confirmed by a major producer in Emilia Romagna who sells at the wholesale market. In both June and July, prices were close to 2 EUR/kg, partially due to a shortage of product. The high temperatures have caused a shortage in yields, so demand remains higher than supply. In northern Italy, two varieties are produced, the long and the short cucumber. The short one is in great demand in the catering sector, while the long one is mostly sold by retailers. The vegetable is produced in tunnels, extending the harvest until November.
In Campania, the greenhouse cucumber campaign began in March and will end at the end of August. In the area called Agro Nocerino Sarnese, cucumber production is constant, but in general the supply is not abundant. One producer says: "This year's cucumber campaign is quite positive and prices are holding steady, with quotations of 0.70-0.80 EUR/kg. Whereas last year, with the same period, prices were 0.40 EUR/kg. Although prices are higher this year, production costs have increased by at least 50 per cent, and we are only just able to cover our expenses.”
Spain: Cucumber prices almost twice as high as same period last year
Although the bulk of cucumber production in Spain is concentrated in the producing areas of Almería and Granada during the autumn and winter months, in the summer months some plantations located at higher levels are maintained. The conventional cucumbers go to the local market and the organic ones go mainly to export markets.
The current summer organic cucumber season carries on with volumes well below the usual due to heat waves in June and July, which caused the number of fruits per plant to decrease, as well as lots of quality problems. The decrease in the volumes of organic cucumber in Spain also coincides with a notable fall in production in the rest of Europe, due to the increase of fuel and energy costs, as well as other production inputs. The Netherlands, Lithuania, Italy, Bulgaria... all these countries are offering fewer organic cucumbers. Although demand has fallen slightly compared to last year, due to consumers being perhaps more cautious in a context of global inflation, it is well above the available supply, which is driving prices to almost double those of last year on the same dates. In fact, the available supply of organic cucumber does not cover its demand, which mainly comes from Germany, the Nordic countries, the United Kingdom or Belgium, among others. Despite prices being higher overall, profit margins are similar to last year, considering that production costs have risen by around 30% and volumes are lower. In the coming weeks though, the availability of organic cucumber could increase, but even so, the volumes will be below last season's levels.
At the moment, the organic and conventional cucumber growers are planting for the autumn and winter campaign in Almeria, where believe the area planted with cucumbers could be similar to last year's. Prices have been historically high in the 2021-2022 campaign due to the reduction of the supply of up to 20% at some parts of the campaign due to the effects of haze and bad weather. This will once again encourage farmers to invest in this vegetable.
South Africa: Better season than expected
According to a retail buyer, the English cucumber season is going better than expected. “We’ve had some small positive growth in winter which is unusual. The cold did and does hinder production which makes things challenging but customers are still buying the popular vegetable.”
Mediterranean cucumbers are also doing very well even after they were removed from promotions, something retailers will have to bear in mind for summer.
Sizing and quality have also been good so far this season, with the average price at the Johannesburg municipal market for English cucumbers currently resting between R16 and R23 per kilogram.
North America: High costs put pressure on cucumber market
“Generally, people have planted a little less cucumber everywhere and that's mainly driven by higher costs,” according to one grower-shipper of cucumber in North America.
Right now, production has transitioned from Georgia with the exception of two late harvesting growers who are almost finished. “Production is now widespread in growing areas from South Carolina, North Carolina, New Jersey, Ohio, New York , Michigan and Baja Mexico. There are small local deals in other areas but production is still not abundant in any one area,” he says.
Greenhouse production of cucumbers from Mexico, Canada and the U.S. also continues, though he notes there had been a flush of greenhouse cucumbers on the market. “The market was greatly depressed and people were consigning greenhouse cucumbers,” he says, noting retailers however weren't spot promoting greenhouse cucumbers and instead relying on ads planned two weeks in advance. The flush is now over and European style cucumber prices are now higher.
However, the lower amount of acreage planted isn't surprising given the number of increased costs growers are contending with--fuel, fertilizer, the lack of labor and more. High fuel rates are of particular note, as they are pressuring supplies that are available closer to home because supplementing from the West Cost for example is more cost-prohibitive.
Meanwhile demand is good for cucumbers--however local deals are making their way into general demand. “There are little pockets everywhere of someone with cucumbers,” he says. “And those smaller deals are trying to get more money for their product because they don't have the volume to help them overcome the additional costs we're all dealing with.”
He does add that this year those local deals have a particular advantage at retail. “Retailers will try and buy that local production because they're saving on freight and they can buy just-in-time produce and can promote ”buy local,” he says.
As for prices, they're spread out with a low of $8.35 F.O.B. to a high of
$10.35. Selects with super selects are commanding higher price points ranging from $16.35 to $18.35. “With production increasing in most new areas we can expect prices to ease off and they could fall quickly,” he says.
That range is also partly due to freight costs. “With cucumber weights, the freight cost is a driving factor in the decision around where to buy
F.O.B. the F.O.B. cost may be lower in one area the freight cost to end user may be prohibitively high,” he says.
Looking ahead, he notes that of course, growing conditions are also factoring into where cucumbers are being bought from. “One area might have too much rain while another area might be too hot and dry, impacting quality,” he says. “The bottom line is that transition time is time to research a little more than usual to find the best “deal.” Keep inventory low as you follow the market down.”
Mexico: The world's largest cucumber exporter
Mexico is the world's largest exporter of cucumber. The most recent figures available globally and shared by the FAO correspond to 2020, a year in which the historical record in the world production of this vegetable was broken, with a total of 91,258.27 million kilos. Mexico produced 1,159,933.69 tons, ranking as the fifth largest producer in volume, and shipped 809,814 tons outside its borders; a figure that, although it only represents 0.9% of world production, places it as the main player in the global market.
Looking at the figures, the strong export character of the Mexican cucumber can be observed, since 70% of the production was sold on the international market where the vast majority - an overwhelming 98.9% - was destined for the United States, which, by on the other hand, it is the world's largest importer of this vegetable, with purchases for 960 million dollars in 2020. Only 1.1% of exported Mexican cucumbers went to a country other than the United States; specifically to Canada.
As detailed in a report prepared by the United States International Trade Commission (USITC) about the effects of cucumber imports in the country, with a particular focus on production and competitiveness in the southeastern states, published in December 2021 -in which were determined that they contribute to satisfying the domestic demand for this product-, “the Mexican fresh market cucumber industry is a small, but highly export-oriented, part of the country's agricultural sector. Cucumbers for the fresh market accounted for less than 1/10 of 1% of Mexico's total harvested area for all crops in 2020. As part of Mexican vegetable production, cucumbers (including pickling cucumbers) contributed 5 .3% of the total and were among the top 20 food and beverage exports in 2019,” the report states. On average, during 2015-2020, about 70% of all cucumbers and about 91% of fresh cucumbers for market were exported, much of it to the United States.
"Production in Mexico increased by 25.2% between 2015 and 2020, driven by increased production in protected areas, including greenhouses and shade houses." In fact, the 55.6% increase in cucumber production under protected agriculture more than offset the 4.0% decrease in open field production during this period.
“Typically, higher value fresh market cucumbers are grown in protected areas, rather than pickle cucumbers. During 2015–20, the share of production of cucumbers grown on protected areas (in tons) increased by 55.6%, although the harvested area only increased by 10.7%. After rising for three years, open field cucumber production overall fell, falling 17.1% between 2017 and 2020, although harvested area shrank 26.5%.”
Mexican exports grew by 23.6% between 2015 and 2020, going from 655,191 tons to 809,814, while in the same period, US cucumber imports increased by 156% from 87 million pounds to 223 million pounds, in a country that in recent years maintains an annual consumption of around 5 kg per capita.
As a major producer and exporter, imports of cucumbers from Mexico during this period were insignificant, the document highlights.
China: Slight price increase
The prices of melons and vegetables have been very varied in China this season. Among them, the prices of cucumbers, zucchini and gourds rose in different ranges and prices of other vegetables categories remained stable. China’s cucumber production is primarily located in Northwestern areas of the country, and is mainly done in open ground.
Next week: We’re on holiday! Join us again on Thursday August 11th for Global Market Overview Melons and Watermelons!