Weather severely impacts Serbian agriculture

Due to climate change, the weather is becoming volatile and unpredictable. In South-Eastern as well as in Central Europe, winters are now miilder, spring weather is dry and turbulent, and summers are scorching hot. Plant cultivation is vulnerable, and droughts as well as floods can cause serious damages. In the recent period, the early summer rainy season started in Serbia and caused considerable damages. 

A flooded raspberry orchard
Beeld: ©Mila Mirkovic
Vegetable gardens, pastures, crop plantations and raspberry orchards were flooded after the rains in Serbia. Raspberry plants take years to mature.

Floods devastate crops and raspberry orchards

A tributary of Zapadna Morava, the Moravica River flooded and destroyed more than a thousand hectares of raspberry orchards in Western Serbia. Between 2-3 thousand hectares of potato and corn plantations, vegetable gardens and pastures have been flooded, stated President of the Association of Raspberry and Blackberry Producers in Serbia Dobrivoje Radovic.

It is estimated that the most damage is located close to where the torrent left its bed, flooding the fertile parts of the land and uprooting the raspberry stalks as well as garden vegetables, carrying mud and debris. In some places, the accumulated layer of mud was half a meter thick which means that the grass in these areas cannot be used as hay to feed the livestock.

The export of raspberries usually generates about €230 million annually in revenue, according to President Radovic. He added that it takes two years for raspberries to reach full maturity. Even if raspberry growers were to plant new raspberries today, they would only bear fruit in two years’ time. The Serbian Government adopted the a decree to support municipalities affected by the floods with €1.7 million. This financial grant will be distributed to the affected 27 municipalities.

Only 2-3% of Serbian households have flood insurance

Floods usually affect farms and crop plantations in the vicinity of rivers and other waterflows. Farms at those locations do not have high irrigation expenditures but on the other hand, insurance risk is too high. Secretary-General of the Association of Serbian Insurers Dusko Jovanovic stated that only 2-3% of Serbian households have flood insurance and 10% of households in total have any property insurance. He also stated that in Serbia every third or fourth insurance policy has an additional clause for flood insurance and that the problem lies in the fact that the government reaches citizens with offers for damage coverage before insurers have the chance to do so. “The state should not be covering the damage costs. The state should help the victims but not through covering the damages because that is a job for insurance agencies,” said the SG.

The statistics regarding agricultural insurance are disconcerting but overall, the situation has improved since the state aid increased the number of insured households. It is up to the insurance companies to reach every insured person and explain that the insurance policy is an investment and not an added expense. Nevertheless, insurance companies are reluctant to insure farms in the vicinity of waterflows due to the high risk of flooding.

Wheat yields and purchase prices below expectations

This year wheat quality is not satisfactory due to the intensive rainfall in the last two weeks. For the final phase of grain ripening it is necessary to have dry weather. That was not the case this year. For that reason the purchasing price is low. Purchasers and mill owners will still have to treat the grain against fungus and other possible diseases caused by the high humidity level, which will also influence the purchasing price.

On the other hand, the forecast of the average yield differs from area to area. In the north Banat region, yields will be low due to spring draught, and in the Srem and Macva regions predictions are that they will be high. Average wheat yields will range between three to seven metric tons per hectare. Moreover, the announced purchase prices are €0.13-0.14/kg, which is why certain farmers’ associations propose protests. According to the Head of the Serbian Independent Farmers Association, yields per ha need to reach 6-7 tons in order to cover production expenses with “such low prices.” In the “Zitounija”, Association of 17 mills, forecasted prices are between €0.19-0.23.

Farmers have demanded that the Directorate for Commodity Reserves buy wheat for state-owned stocks, and the price should be €0.19/kg. This wa, the Ministry would influence other purchasers and mill owners to offer at least €0.19/kg. The Ministry of Agriculture said publishing a price for the purchase of the wheat for commodity reserves was outside their competences. The actual price for wheat will be of course known only when the harvest is underway. In some parts of Serbia, the harvest is postponed due to the heavy rainfall past weeks. For comparison, last year, the price was €0.14-0.15/kg

Sour cherry also suffers from bad weather

The harvest of  the famous sour cherry from south Serbia started last week. The producers are displeased with the purchasing price, while the owners of the cold storages claimed that the price of sour cherry was determined exclusively by its quality. Unfortunately, the rainy weather influenced the quality of this fruit which, in turn, decreased the price. It is unsure whether farmers will pick the fruit at all with the price being so low (€0.21/kg). Cold storage facilities are unwilling to buy substantial quantities of sour cherries considering the fruit water level. Such high water quantities will lower the quality of frozen fruits and owners of cold storage companies will not be able to export such product.

The majority of sour cherries is meeting processing quality requirements but not fresh/consumption quality. The other issue is the level of brix (level of sugar) that should be minimum 12 and this year it is only around 9.