Hungary's maize production at risk

Government takes further steps in grain import situation; falling livestock figures; invasive African ticks breeding in Hungary; weather damages in horticulture - Our weekly briefing on agriculture, food and nature news in Hungary.

Close-up of corn cobs.
Beeld: ©Cornell Frühauf

Competitiveness of Hungarian maize at stake and report that the competitiveness of Hungarian maize is at question with the presence of imported Ukrainian grain in the domestic market, however, one expert says that it is not necessarily the Ukrainian import that threatens maize farming in Hungary the most.

According to Dr. Dénes Szieberth, the president of the Hungarian Corn Club Association, the biggest problem facing domestic crop cultivation is not the war in Ukraine or Ukrainian imports, as many may believe. Dr. Szieberth stated that the sales pressure resulting from the war is pushing down crop prices, which is a fact, however, production is falling below the mark where maize farming can remain profitable.

The average production level of Hungarian maize farmers has fallen below the optimal production level per hectare of farmland due to the fact that a lot of maize is grown on land that is unsuitable  for corn cultivation. Dr. Szieberth claims that on the domestic corn cultivation area of approximately one million hectares, an average of only 5.5-6 tons of corn has been produced per hectare over the last several years. This means that at least 300 thousand hectares of land in the current total area are unsuitable for maize cultivation, and significant investments would be required to enable corn to be grown on these lands, including investments in water management, soil improvement, and improved farming knowledge.

If Hungarian farmers have to compete with the Ukrainian import, they are unlikely to succeed according to Dr. Szieberth. Sales prices of around €225 per ton can be expected, and to make a profit from maize cultivation at current costs, a yield of 7.5-9 tons per hectare would need to be achieved.

The expert also suggests that the solar energy industry covers significant agricultural and natural areas, freeing up producers in these areas from production pressures. Similar-minded utilization could still be possible on vast areas, and with appropriate public education on lifestyle changes, short and long-term competitive solutions can be available. However, the solar energy industry exerts negative environmental and visual pressure similar to wind turbines. Overall, solutions such as appropriate investment and education can aid in the competitive success of corn cultivation and the utilization of solar energy in Hungary.

Hungarian government to take further steps in the Ukrainian grain import case

Hungarian Agriculture Minister István Nagy announced on Saturday that the government will take further action and introduce tighter controls on grain imports from Ukraine, reports Hungary Matters. This move aims to ensure that the grain reaches its intended destination and Hungarian producers are not adversely affected, according to Minister Nagy.

István Nagy cited the problems caused by large quantities of imported grain and oil seeds, which according to theHungarian government have led to reduced purchase prices below the cost of production for Hungarian grains. According to the Minister, Ukraine, which enjoys duty-free status, has also begun exporting significant amounts of poultry, eggs, and honey to the EU, further “suppress[ing] Hungarian products in their traditional markets and reduces farm gate prices below the cost of production.”

Hungary, along with Poland, Slovakia, Romania, and Bulgaria, has petitioned the European Commission to take steps to address what István Nagy calls an "intolerable" situation. Minister Nagy emphasized the need for farmers to have a predictable environment to maintain their production under the same conditions as their counterparts in other European countries.

To achieve this, Nagy proposed that the road transport system EKAER be rolled out to grain and oil seed products to have a more precise estimate of imported quantities. This system would also allow for fines on unannounced imports. The minister further announced that the government would propose the temporary reintroduction of duties and quantity restrictions for road or rail imports of Ukrainian grain and oil seed.

Livestock numbers decreasing in Hungary faster than EU average

In a recent interview with Agrá, Tamás Éder, President of the Hungarian Meat Association discussed the declining figures of the animal sectors in Hungary.

Hungary's pig population has decreased more than the EU average, according to Mr. Éder. However, he adds that this is not surprising as the rate of decline is within the range of the European average. The expert suggests that Hungary's pig farming industry has experienced a particularly turbulent period, so the numbers are not unexpected.

Based on recent data from Eurostat, the EU's animal population saw a 5% decrease in pigs, 1% in cattle, 2% in sheep, and 3% in goats in November-December 2022 compared to 2021. In Hungary, the decline in pig population was around 6%, nearly 2% in cattle, and 1.7% and more than 10% in sheep and goat populations, respectively.

Mr. Éder acknowledges that these numbers reflect reality, but notes that the decline in pig population has been ongoing for some time. The expert also points out that last year's decrease was greater due to extremely unfavorable conditions in the industry during the 1-1.5 years preceding the first quarter of 2022. Pig prices were very low not only in Hungary, but throughout Europe, and the price fluctuations observed over the past 4-5 years have discouraged many. Hungary is not exceptional in this regard compared to the European average.

Cattle, sheep, and goat farmers in Hungary are also dissatisfied. Hungary's cattle population declined by 1.75%, from 909.9 thousand heads in 2021 to 894 thousand heads in the same period in 2022. The Hungarian sheep population decreased from 887 thousand to 871.7 thousand heads, a 1.7% decline. There was a much more pronounced decline in the goat farming industry, where the population dropped from 45 thousand in 2021 to 41 thousand heads in 2022, which is a decline of about 10.1%.

African ticks, capable of reproduction, found in Hungary reports that a team of scientists in Hungary identified juvenile specimens of the Hyalomma rufipes, an African tick species, on birds at Lake Balaton, in West Hungary. What is concerning about this discovery is that these specimens are apparently capable of reproduction in Hungary.

The Research Group for New Hematophagous Parasites and Vector-borne Pathogens of the Eötvör Loránd Research Network identified the parasites on specimens of the spotted crake and the Eurasian penduline tit in the area of West Balaton.

According to, the ticks come from a local population and are likely from the same genetic lineage. Researchers suspect this because the above-mentioned bird species do not migrate during their breeding period, and one of the removed ticks was still in a larval stage. Also, a sequence of three genes was identical in all ten ticks. The young larva and the close genetic relationship of the specimens indicate that the newly discovered population is capable of reproducing in Hungary.

The dangerous tick species, Hyalomma rufipes, mainly lives in Central and South Africa, but its populations have settled in smaller areas in North Africa as well. Although adult specimens of the tick species have been first found in Hungary more than 130 years ago, no breeding population has been found in Hungary, or the rest of Europe before.

The appearance of Hyalomma rufipes can be accredited to global tourism and climate change. The scientists will continue researching whether the ticks can survive overwintering in temperate Hungary. These ticks are capable of transmitting tropical diseases such as Zika, dengue fever, chikungunya, tick-borne encephalitis or the Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever virus. adds that according to experts, by 2030-2050, these diseases may also appear in Hungary in greater numbers due to climate change.

Growers’ alliance issues statement on weather damages

Due to spring frosts, there will be a reduced harvest of apricots and peaches this year, particularly from early varieties that are typically harvested in June, according to a summary posted on last Tuesday on the website of FruitVeb Hungarian Fruit and Vegetable Interprofessional Organization and Product Council.

The cold snap caused by sub-zero temperature air originating from the Arctic that arrived on March 15 did not cause any significant damage. However, during the second cold snap on March 27, apricot and peach trees were already in bloom in orchards throughout the country, with plum and cherry trees blooming in the south. The flowering period of other fruit species varies between regions and types, and many were 1-3 weeks from the start of flowering, according to the organization.

Temperature drops to -3-4°C have already caused flower damage in the tens of percents in fruit tree crops that were either blooming or just a few days away from blooming, especially in apricots, peaches, and cherries.

According to the statement, it is uncertain what percentage of fruit orchards have experienced a critical level of frost, and cold-induced flower damage does not necessarily result in similar levels of crop damage. In favorable cases, a serious flower damage does not necessarily lead to significant losses if conditions improve afterwards. Past experience shows that a 70-80% flower damage is unlikely to result in a good harvest.

However, weather conditions can still drastically worsen in Hungary. In 2021, cold snaps in the spring led to substantive damages in Hungary’s fruit crops. Climate change is transforming Hungary’s weather patterns, causing temperature turbulences in the spring period.