A lengthy list of challenges is a concern for all in the apple and pear business, but WAPA representatives speaking from Prognosfruit 2022 in Belgrade highlighted the sector’s continued positivity

“There are reasons to be optimistic,” concluded Philippe Binard, secretary general of WAPA, the World Apple and Pear Association, during a press conference at this year’s Prognosfruit in Belgrade, Serbia.

Given the extreme heat recently felt across Europe, the 12.1m tonnes of apples forecast to be produced in 2022/23 may indeed dip below that figure, while production in the US, particularly in the important Washington State area, as well as in China, is predicted to fall.

”It could also open up new opportunities for European exporters in Southeast Asia, where there will be less volume on the market,” Binard said.

The impact of record temperatures is of course one of the challenges, with the impact on sizes still to be assessed, while the conflict in Ukraine has sent energy costs and uncertainty soaring.

“Form the market side, we expect the war will cause a lot of trouble in international markets,” said Dominik Wozniak, president of WAPA. “Ukraine is a big producer of grain, corn and other kinds of wheat, so we expect they will focus on this kind of product. Also, we are afraid that markets like Egypt will prefer to secure corn instead of buying apples from Europe. The numbers show nice sales of apples to markets like Egypt, and we are afraid this could disappear if they prefer to buy different foods. Apples are not always the first choice.”

With apple stocks currently higher than this time last year, producers fear low prices this campaign. Given the price of energy, the pressure from growers to sell as much as possible has also been strong, according to Wozniak.

“It’s not easy because there are not enough markets,” he explained. “Other regions where we can sell have their own fruit – some think that Scandinavia could absorb more, but they have their own production. We expect a lot of fruit will be sent to industry. That will give us the possibility at least to liquidate the stocks, but it won’t give big profits to the grower.

“Poland is the biggest apple producer in Europe and right now third in the world, but unfortunately our quality is not the best. Around 60-70 per cent will go to industry (concentrate, juice etc) this season, but what’s left we hope to sell at the best possible price. I accept Poland always [depresses] prices, but with our volume and quality, we have to find new markets. So a lot of traders fight on price and this causes the problem. The positive thing is that due to higher costs of production and packaging and other necessary things before shipment, it won’t be so cheap for us as it was in the past. The cost of electricity for example will limit what can be kept in coldstorage. We hope that what is left in coldstores will be sold in the spring time for a good price.”

“Ukraine is indeed a big producer with more than a million tonnes,” added Binard, “but internationally there is not a lot of trade between the EU and Ukraine. It was developing its exports but not necessarily to the EU, although some to Poland. They tended to develop their exports where they could compete with European supply. Now there is less [competition] from Ukraine for logistics reasons. It’s extremely complex for them also in the production regions in terms of safety from the bombing.”

Luc Vanoirbeek, general secretary of the Association of Belgian Horticultural Cooperatives (VBT) and fruit and vegetables representative at Copa-Cogeca, summed up the impact of Russia’s invasion.

“The conflict will have three main consequences,” he said. “First, direct disruption of exports, with indirect consequences in the European market. Then, redirection in trade flows for countries that can no longer ship to Russia. Third, this conflict has direct consequences for energy prices. Costs for gas have tripled and even more.”

On a more positive note, Binard said he continued to believe the sector could be supply-driven and stimulate consumption in Europe. 

“We have a lot of assets to use,” he said. “Apples remain relatively cheap in the assortment so we need to convince consumers that these are affordable offers.”

He added that recent challenges faced by the sector had had the result of stimulating innovation to grow consumption.

“There is an ongoing repositioning towards new varieties,” he said, “and every year new developments are here – a response to find the right balance between local, international and club varieties. This is stimulating innovation in the sector and helping it become more competitive.”