Hungary Newsflash Week 1, 2021

Privatization in education, irrigation reform, meat sector news and the award-winning fruity innovation from Tokaj

Dear Reader,

How can family farms become more climate resilient and profitable through precision agri methods?

The Budapest-Belgrade Agriculture team would like to cordially invite you to our next online webinar titled Farminar 2: Precision agriculture in Hungary on Tuesday, January 12 at 10:00 (GMT+1), where these questions and more will be discussed by Dutch and Hungarian researchers and practitioners. More information on the event can be found following this link. To register, please send an email with your name an organization to bdp-lnv@minbuza.nl

Green grass after watering
©Henryk Niestrój
Irrigation will be a central question in Hungarian agriculture in the coming years. A new amendment to the irrigation act by the Ministry of Agriculture aims to regulate the utilization of groundwater - For which environmentalists criticize the ministry.

Public university privatized

The Széchenyi István University, a public higher education institution, will be privatized on February 1, when it will be handed over to a private foundation. The university, which will continue its operations as a private educational institution will also be renamed “Hungarian Agricultural and Life Sciences University.” This was announced by the Ministry of Innovation and Technology (ITM) in a press release on Monday. The legal basis for the privatization is a December 24 Governmental Decree.

The news portals Telex, 444, Mérce reported that after this transition, the board of the foundation leading the university will include Minister for Agriculture István Nagy and János Lázár, Fidesz MEP and governmental commissioner in charge of the state-owned Mezőhegyesi Ménesbirtok (Mezőhegyes stud farm). The head of the board will be Sándor Csányi, CEO of Hungary’s multinational banking corporation OTP. Mr. Csányi is also the owner of Bonafarm group, one of the largest agricultural conglomerates in Hungary.

According to Mérce, this measure follows the governmental “Corvinus model,” a university privatization practice that started with the Corvinus University of Budapest in which public higher education institutions are handed over to private foundations. In this process, foundation boards take over the governance of these institutions, including financial affairs, institutional development and management, functions that were previously the privileges of the universities’ senates.

Irrigation act amendment – “Well drilling amnesty” announced

An amendment to the irrigation act has been announced, reported the Hungarian agro news outlets. The amendment will create a new framework for the previously illegal irrigation wells many growers had previously drilled throughout the country. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, the 2019 irrigation act and the accompanying executive decree of 2020 primarily regulated irrigation using surface waters, however, ground water supplies can also be utilized. Authorities put the estimate for illegally drilled groundwater irrigation wells in Hungary between ten and a hundred thousand. The current amendment to the irrigation act serves the function of creating a new regulative framework for these wells. With this amendment, a new “well-drilling amnesty” enters into force in which previously illegal irrigation wells will now be sanctioned if announced to the authorities until the end of 2023.

Previously, WWF Hungary heavily criticized the government’s water management plans in the fall of 2020. The organization commented on the water management act amendment proposals that the erasure of conditionality for irrigation well drilling was “seemingly helping farmers, however, in the long run, would worsen the water shortages in agriculture.”

We have previously reported on water scarcity issues in agriculture and various irrigation plans.

A hotdog.
©Hannah Chen
Vienna sausages are best known as hot dog fillings but in Hungary they are also a traditional food on New Year's Eve. This meat product is by far the most popular in Hungary - But the pandemic affected sausage sales as well.

Fruity Spirit from Tokaj

Tokaj is the home of the Tokaji Aszú, the wine variety with global renown and one of the most recognizable Hungarian brands. This time however, Tokaj was mentioned in international gastro news because of its gin – The British magazine The Spirits Business rewarded the Tokaj Gin with the top medal in the microdistillery section for its “lovely fruity nose.”

The Tokaj Gin was produced by Seven Hills Distillery, a small artisanal whisky and gin brewery in Bodrogkisfalud, in the neighborhood of Tokaj – Located in the picturesque mountainous and forested region of the North Hungarian Mountains in North-East Hungary. Dénes Mészáros-Komáromy, the owner of the distillery told the portal Magyar Mezőgazdaság that it was nearly unbelievable that while not so long ago, they were setting up their gin brewery in a small, old village cottage and now their brand was recognized among the world’s best. Mr. Mészáros-Komáromy believes that it is a special pleasure to “open new dimensions” for the traditional wine region Tokaj-Hegyalja.

Last year was “the wurst”

The effects of the coronavirus crisis could be felt even the composition Hungarians’ New Year’s Eve dinner. The traditional food Hungarians eat on New Year’s Eve after midnight is Vienna sausage. (Which has a complicated background in folk superstitions of pigs sniffing out good luck. This has been proven false since everyone ate Vienna sausages on New Year’s Eve in 2019 too and 2020 still happened.)

Vienna sausages (Hot dogs in American) are currently the most popular meat products in Hungary. However, the news portal Telex reports the assessment of Tamás Éder of the Hungarian Meat Alliance: That the coronavirus crisis has affected the price sensitivity of Hungarian consumers, which is why the crisis left a dent on Vienna sausage sales in the last weeks of 2020. Usually, the demand for higher quality, more expensive Vienna sausages increases by 20-25% in the last weeks of the year. Hungarian processed meat producers annually generate around €558 million in profit, however, current projections show that the COVID-19 pandemic will probably lead to a -10% decrease in their production volume index this year.

Vienna sausages make up around 20% of all processed meat products on the Hungarian market, around 30 to 35 thousand tons are sold every year.