The poultry sector in Hungary

Analysis – Trends, challenges and opportunities in the Hungarian poultry sector

Close-up of a chicken that looks very serious.
©Max Kleinen
Hungary's self-sufficiency in poultry products is close to 180%. The annual production value of Hungary's poultry sector is around €920-€950 million.

The Hungarian poultry sector was hit by the coronavirus pandemic more than a year ago and feed prices have been rising steadily in 2021. Poultry sector operators are facing pressure from two sides as on the one hand, they have to cope with the oversupply on the meat retail markets due to pandemic restrictions (especially in the HORECA sector) and on the other, the have to struggle with the high filed crop prices.

Livestock farmers try to transfer the price increase of the primary inputs (feed) included in the producer price of slaughter animals to the processing and retail side. Farmers who fail to raise  prices may sell livestock at production cost or even below.

But what will happen to Hungarian producers if they cannot pass on the increase in production costs to the processing industry, trade and ultimately to consumers?

Increasing production efficiency could be a key objective in 2021. The available livestock on poultry farms could slow the pace of the price rise, while the recovery of the catering industry and the increase in consumption have opposite effects. The production cost is heavily influenced by feed price developments, as feed accounts for roughly two-thirds of the cost price. A 30% rise in feed prices will immediately increase the cost of producing live poultry by 20%. The increase in feed prices is expected to be passed on to retail trade, leading to changes in consumer prices. Such increases however will not happen overnight and retail chains and consumers need to be prepared.

Hungarian consumers are extremely price-sensitive, thus  increases of retail price can only be realized very cautiously and after consultations. Experts and stakeholders agree that a lasting solution could be the even distribution of increased production costs among the actors of the value chain, including consumers, otherwise more producers may decide to close business. Despite recent market problems, the chicken livestock is about to increase partly due to emerging consumption.

Farms operating in integration have a better chance of survival. The biggest avian influenza threat is present in the major producing countries, especially in France, Germany and Poland so a large number of Hungarian slaughterhouses could now improve export opportunities. The opening of export markets suggests that poultry meat will not be cheap for the time being.

Production and sales

The livestock situation shows that the Hungarian poultry population fell significantly by December 2020. Hungary's poultry population stood at 35.379 million heads, compared to the 39.208 million in 2019, but also well below the 37.016 million in 2000.

The consumption data seem somehow contradicted to production figures since annual per capita poultry meat consumption in Hungary has been steadily increasing, reaching 35.7 kilograms in 2019, compared to the EU average of 23.3 kilograms in 2020.

The poultry sector accounts for two thirds of Hungarian slaughtered meat production. The largest production volume is counted for chicken, followed by turkey, duck and goose. The poultry sector is the largest producer of animal production in value. Hungary's self-sufficiency in poultry products is close to 180 %. Counting live animals and eggs, production value reaches €920-€950 million, but it is double that if processed products are included. Domestic ownership is dominant in the processing industry, and processors effectively integrate farmers. The sector directly and indirectly employs about 50-60.000 people. Chicken production is highly automated, while goose and duck production requires a large manual workforce. The domestic goose and duck sector is also a global leader, ranking second in Europe in terms of meat production and first in the world goose liver production.

The coronavirus pandemic and the sporadic emergence of avian influenza had a combined effect on the sector. Avian influenza was widespread mainly in southern Hungary, affecting the goose and duck operators. The recent closure of borders makes transport difficult and products are difficult to sell, thus domestic consumption seems to have fallen significantly in 2020.

Consumer prices are primarily determined by supply and demand rather than by production costs. Across Europe, there was an oversupply of both geese and ducks, which quickly depressed prices, but the turkey and chicken sector managed to manage profitably with minor fluctuations.

Roasted chicken with veggies.
©Sam Moqadam
The consumption of chicken meat in Hungary is steadily increasing. While the EU average of per capita chicken meat consumption in 2020 was 23.3 kilograms, the Hungarian average was 35.7 kilograms.

Hungary’s poultry meat export fell by 3.5 % to 19.3 thousand tons in 2021. Furthermore, exports of chicken meat fell by 1% while turkey meat increased by 15%. The main markets for poultry meat are Romania, Bulgaria, Austria, Slovakia, Ukraine, Germany and France. The main export products are fresh, cooled and frozen whole chicken and turkey and carcass.

Hungary's total poultry import fell by 36% to 5.100 tons in 2021. Out of this, chicken meat fell by 33 % to 3.700 tons and turkey by 71 % to 218 tons. Poultry meat was mainly imported from Poland and Romania.

According to the Agricultural Economics Research Institute (AKI) statistics, almost 113.000 tons (live weight) of poultry were slaughtered in Hungary in between January and February 2021, which is 3 % less than in the same period in 2020. Out of this, 73.000 tons (- 4% Y/Y) were slaughter chicken and 16.000 tons (- 6% Y/Y) were slaughter turkey.

The live weight producer price of slaughter chicken in Q1 of 2021 was €0.77/kg and remained unchanged. The same is true for slaughter turkey’s price rate at €1.16/kg. The live weight producer price of slaughter chicken was the lowest in Hungary in April 2021 when compared to the neighboring countries (SK: €0.84/kg, CZ: €0.88/kg, PL: €0.85/kg). The price was similar in Germany at €0.86/kg but higher in Italy at €1.05/kg and France €0.93/kg.

The slaughtered whole chicken (65%) price seems stable in Europe for the 2020-21 period except Portugal where 25% increase was recorded. For Hungary this price was €1.53/kg in April 2021.

Farmer support

A number of measures have been taken by the government in 2021 to help farmers. Hungarian agriculture including for the poultry sector has been granted €71.8 million in aid to help with the problems caused by the coronavirus.

Conclusion

The COVID-19 pandemic hit the poultry sector in 2020 resulting in the drop of production and meat consumption. Soaring feed prices in 2021 increased production costs but it seems difficult to pass the price on to processors and consumers. Equal distribution of higher production costs in the value chain can be a lasting solution. The poultry sector is the largest in animal production in value in Hungary. Despite changes in the production there is still a reliable supply market position. The live weight producer price of slaughter chicken as well as fresh, cooled or frozen poultry meat is relatively low in Hungary compared to other EU countries. The government introduced aid for producers in order to overcome value chain disturbances.

Dit artikel is gebaseerd op een onlangs uitgevoerde marktstudie. In opdracht van de landbouwafdeling van de Nederlandse Ambassade in Boedapest heeft het Hongaarse Landbouweconomisch Instituut en marktstudie. Het rapport is beschikbaar voor Nederlandse bedrijven d.m.v. een email aan bdp-lnv@minbuza.nl

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