Hungary Newsflash Week 25

Agri R&D, climate-resistant wheat, legislation news, Heineken hand sanitizer - The last week in Hungarian agriculture

A tomato plant is seen in the rain
©Lívia Kósa
With the June storm season, the rains finally arrive to the drought-struck lands in Hungary.

The pandemic makes Hungarians eat healthier

Due to the lockdowns and having more time for cooking at home, Hungarian citizens started consuming more fruits and vegetables according to the findings of a new representative consumption survey co-produced by the Hungarian National Food Chain Safety Office (NÉBIH), TÉT Platform Foundation and the University of Debrecen. The study found that during the crisis, Hungarians bought less alcohol, salty snacks, sweets, sugar and energy drinks – and consumed more fruits, vegetables, legumes, and dairy products. According to nutritionist and sociologist Emese Antal of the TÉT Platform Foundation, the trend shows that due to the fact that Hungarians had more time for food, they became more conscious in their consumption habits.

The survey also found that one-third of responders consumed more dietary supplements as well, possibly for the purpose of immune system fortification. According to Vice Dean Zoltán Szakály of the University of Debrecen, public perception of domestic food production also became more positive and buying domestic products became a higher priority.

Parts of the 2017 amendment to the Forest Act ruled unconstitutional

The Commissioner for Fundamental Rights appealed to the Constitutional Court over the 2017 amendment to the 2009 Forest Act. In it, the Court agreed with the Deputy Commissioner for the Protection of the Interests of Future Generations, that the 2017 amendment to the Forest Act primarily served the interests of private forest owners and forest managers and neglected the needs of the natural environment.

The Constitutional Court ruled that several elements of the 2017 amendment were unconstitutional, claiming that “The state can only extend rights insofar as they do not jeopardize either the natural assets themselves nor the protection of the interests of future generations.”

The Court annulled the designation of economic purpose in protected natural areas and ruled that deforestation causes extremely severe and irreversible damage to the ecosystem, and therefore cannot be constitutionally justified. They pointed out that an area belongs to the Natura 2000 network precisely because of the flora or fauna in need of special protection. Accordingly, a nature conservation permit procedure is again required for clear-cutting practices in state-owned forests.

The rains finally arrive

Spectacular thunderstorms, cloudbursts an torrential rain – It seems that with the June storm season, the drought is finally over. In most areas in the country, precipitation in the past period was at least 50-100 mm, while in the north and south-east, it reached 110-120 mm.

Not every crop plantation was saved by the rain however. Early maturing rapeseed yields had already been irreversibly impacted by the drought, however, mid to late maturing varieties might still improve. Fall barley was also negatively impacted – There are generally fewer kernels on the top and bottom thirds of ears but existing ones might still grow bigger, somewhat improving yields.

The main winners of the storm season are sunflower and maize, while outdoor open-air vegetable plantations also benefited from it. The cooler May period was also more favorable for green pea, root and bulb varieties and brassicas.

Livestock embryology laboratory and feed mixing plant opens

The National Agricultural Research and Innovation Center (NAIK) opened a new laboratory in Herceghalom. The purpose of the €289 thousand investment was to provide NAIK’s Research Institute for Animal Breeding, Nutrition and Meat Science with new means for preserving the genetic diversity of endangered domestic livestock animals, in particular, Hungarian swine varieties including the famous mangalica breed. Traditional domestic swine breeds are facing the threat of the ongoing African Swine Fever pandemic. Through population bottlenecks, these breeds are in danger of genetic diversity loss or even extinction. The new embryology lab will also aid researchers in their decades-long research of in vitro fertilization of various livestock embryos while the feed mixture plant is meant to assist domestic agriculture in adopting novel technologies, and tackling climate change challenges.

A bowl of ripe, crimson cherries.
©Dr. Éva Ütő
According to the new survey of the Hungarian National Food Chain Safety Office (NÉBIH), TÉT Platform Foundation and the University of Debrecen, Hungarians ate healthier during the pandemic, consuming more fruits and vegetables and less alcohol and snacks.

Taste the bread of the future

During an event hosted by the Hungarian Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (ÖMKi), professionals could taste bakery products made from ancient wheat varieties. ÖMKi has been spearheading a collaboration initiative involving stakeholders from crop cultivation, the milling and bakery industries for the purpose of rediscovering and reintroducing resilient, ancient wheat varieties on the path to sustainability.

Nine crop varieties make up for 66% of global production today. According to ÖMKi, while modern crops are more and more vulnerable to extreme weather caused by climate change, ancient wheat varieties like emmer, einkorn and spelt are more stress resistant and have a higher content quality than modern bread wheats. Within the framework of the EU Diversifood project, for the past three years ÖMKi has been conducting cultivation experiments near Nyíregyháza with ancient varieties using sandy soil considered unfit for conventional agriculture. The results show that out of fifteen traditional varieties, twelve successfully adapted to extreme soil conditions and drought. While modern wheats have higher yields, adding using flour from traditional varieties as supplement could help putting healthier bread on dinner tables in the future, contributing among others to child nutrition.

Currently, there is a grassroots trend of revolutionizing bread baking in Hungary and not only bakeries participate – With the popular home-baking and yeast fermenting trend of the pandemic lockdown season, many are becoming more and more conscious of the contents of their everyday bread.

Organic seed management technology developed by Hungarian company

Budapest-based Zöldségmag Kft has announced the development of a novel organic vegetable cultivation technology. The €1.55 million R&D project was in large part supported through the governmental Economic Development and Innovation Operational Programme (GINOP). The result is a new, fully-organic, chemical-free seed management technology which is also compatible with large-scale factory production of vegetable and crop seeds. Zöldségmag Kft has five facilities near Kecskemét and in the past they developed various new Hungarian climate resistant vegetable varieties and hybrids. According to the company, climate change presents new challenges to agriculture in the form of weather pattern shifts and the advent of new pest species, and seed cultivation and management offers new avenues of research and development for agriculture today.

(Note: On the topic of sustainability and organic solutions, see our recent article on organic farming in Hungary over here.)

Beer for sanitation

While the hotel and catering sector is finally getting back into business, large quantities of alcoholic beverages are still stuck in storage, which is why Heineken Hungary started using leftover beer to produce hand sanitizers. The company has created more than three thousand bottles of “sertőtlenítő” (“beer-itizer”), providing for every employee and donating the rest of the stock to the safe shelter program of the Hungarian Interchuch Aid.