On 24 April, the southern French region of Perpignan once again played host to Europêch', the annual gathering of Europe’s stonefruit players at which the forecasts for the year are announced. And once again, climatic conditions proved to be the primary cause for concern.
In northern Italy, delegates heard, cold weather and frost struck on 23-24 March, particularly in the Piedmont region, causing considerable damage to peach and nectarine crops.
However, thanks to a forecast increase in the south of the country, experts anticipate a similar volume to last year’s 1.48m tonnes, albeit slightly down, at 1.46m tonnes. But according to Europêch' facilitator Eric Hostalnou of the Roussillon region’s chamber of agriculture, Italian exports could still be down, since most of the southern production is for the domestic market.
During Easter, frost also caused aggravation for French growers, especially in the Rhône-Alpes region, with many orchards suffering severe damage. Additionally, economic difficulties are continuing to drive more and more producers from the industry, something that is occurring all over the country.
The major worry, delegates heard, is that bad weather conditions will further exacerbate the situation. French peach and nectarine production is forecast at 287,483 tonnes, down 19 per cent from 2007, and down 28 per cent from the average of 2002-2006.
Forecasts for Spain were more optimistic, thanks in part to improvements in Extremadura and Murcia, the frost in Murcia proving less destructive than 2007's heavy rain and wind. Production is expected to grow by 7 per cent in 2008 to 692,519 tonnes, a 13 per cent increase over the four-year average, but, according to Mr Hostalnou, still significantly below the country’s real potential.
In Greece, the only country to record any kind of success in 2007, an increase is again forecast, this time of 2 per cent to 342,000 tonnes, a 32 per cent increase over the 2002-2006 average.
As for apricots, Spanish producers predict an increase of 47 per cent, mainly due to the scale of the loss in 2007, while French and Italian producers forecast a drop of 29 and 17 per cent due to the effects of frost.