Hungary: What are the challenges and opportunities today for horti growers?

The most picturesque photos of the Hungarian landscape always show draw wells rising out of the horizon in the meadows and pastures of the Hungarian Great Plains, verdant green forests covering the sloping hillsides in the North and West, or hilltop castles overlooking golden fields of wheat, crisscrossed by wide, blue rivers and of course, dormant volcanoes rising above the aquamarine blue of Lake Balaton.

However, if you ask a Hungarian about the elders selling their produce at local markets, many will tell you about cherished childhood memories of sitting in the laps of smiling grandmas and grandpas, the sweet scent of ripe apples, plums, peaches and cherry, the vibrant cacophony of colors at the farmers’ market. Fruit and vegetable growing is something that Hungary carries in its bones, in its collective memory. Even though these sectors have been slowly declining for decades, the country remains a strong net exporter of fresh and processed fruits and vegetables.

The climate is changing; the international economy hides threats and opportunities. New technologies are now needed to stay in the game, and demand is shifting due to an ongoing global crisis. What are the main structural strengths and weaknesses in Hungary’s fruit and vegetable sectors? We looked at the data from the second half of the last decade (2015-2019) to see the major trends - Here is our overview.

Horticulture – Overview of the fruit and vegetable sectors
Since the EU accession in 2004, the production area of fruits and vegetables in the Hungarian horticultural sectors has been declining. Still, Hungary is a net exporter of fruit products, fresh vegetables, and vegetable products – With most of the export going to other EU member states. However, trade has been declining in the second half of the 2010s decade, with the foreign trade surplus dropping by 80% between 2015 and 2019. There are multiple reasons and structural issues in the economic, societal, and natural environment which can explain this pattern.

First, climate change is a real threat to fruit and vegetable growing. The length and severity of spring droughts, as well as their frequency, has been increasing throughout the decades. Also, unpredictable weather events and frosts in the spring season can catastrophically damage crops, and the unpredictability of spring and summer rains and the uneven distribution of precipitation causes further problems for farmers.

Second, the international market presents its own challenges. Bilateral and multilateral agreements by the EU, as well as BREXIT, translate as real threats to Hungarian fruit and vegetable export. For example, in the case of sweet peppers, while 80% of Hungary’s import comes from the EU, there is also a considerable amount of produce coming from Serbia, Turkey, Macedonia, and Morocco. In the case of fruits, Hungary has to compete with strong fruit-growing countries. Chief examples of trade competitors in the case of apples are Ukraine and Poland.

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