Hungarian government removes Ukrainian sugar from import ban list

Prices rise further, industrial putput declines, Nestlé invests €231 in capacity expansion, crop cultivation facing hard times, the effect of new EPR rules on small farmers, invasive Asian bee hunting hornets worry beekeepers, and the reappearance and worrying rise of the golden jackal - Our weekly briefing on agriculture, food and nature news in Hungary

Raspberry dipped in a spoonful of sugar.
Beeld: ©Myram's Fotos

Government removes sugar from Ukraine import ban list reported on Tuesday that the government has removed sugar from the products listed in the regulation that restricts the importing of agricultural products from Ukraine.

A new governmental decree (Gov’t. decree 464/2023. (X. 9.)) has removed the item „raw cane or beet sugar, or crystalline or chemically pure sucrose in solid state”under the HS code 1701 from the 25-item import ban list. With this amendment, the import ban on sugar among the listed agricultural products from Ukraine related to transport measures specified in Government Decree 130/2023 (IV. 18) has been repealed.

The amended decree still prohibits the import of a range of products unless they arrive as transit cargo.

Price increases continue

The news portal HelloVidé has recently reported on the September figures of consumer price changes in Hungary. On average, consumer prices in September had increased by 12.2% y-o-y, and by 0.4% since August, out of which, food prices fell by 0.2% in a month.

The y-o-y price increase of food was 15.2% in September, out of which sugar has seen the highest price increase (61.3%) while chocolate and cocoa prices rose by 26.1%. The prices of snack bar products rose by 26%, those of non-alcoholic beverages by 24%, wheat flour by 13.9%, margarine by 1.2%

In September, household energy prices decreased by 14.6% on average. The price of automotive fuel increased by 35.4%. Services became 13.6% more expensive.

Production figures declined in August recently reported on Hungary’s macroeconomic performance based on the latest figures by the country’s Central Statistical Office (KSH). In August, Hungary’s industrial output had declined by 2.4% in a month, which contradicts July projections of progressive economic recovery. The news portal highlights that lower energy prices did not relieve all of the pressure from energy-intensive industries and production continues to be subdued.

In case of the food industry, lower demand, both domestically and abroad, has led to declining production figures. According to KSH’s report, as opposed to the increased volume of production in electrical equipment manufacturing, the volume of production has declined in the food industry and  in the alcohol and tobacco industries, along with the computer and electronic equipment manufacturing industry and optical product manufacturing.

In total, Hungary’s aggregate production has decreased by 4.6% in the first 8 month of 2023.

Nestlé invests €231 million into capacity expansion in Bük plant

Nestlé Hungária has invested €231 million into capacity expansion at its pet food production plant in Bük, Vas County, in West Hungary. Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó was present at the opening ceremony of the expanded plant and has highlighted in his speech that the company’s investment has created 280 new jobs.

The company has spent €1 million on training between 2021 and 2023 which the government supported with a subsidy of €496 thousand. Mr. Szijjártó highlighted that since Nestlé exports 90% of its products, meaning that the capacity expansion will improve Hungary’s exports as well. Mr. Szijjártó further commented that agriculture and the food industry must be considered a strategic industry and that „the decisions of the government reflect this paradigm”.

Feed company CEO: Crop situation is terrible

The news portal Agrá has published an interview with Zoltán Kulik, CEO of the Hungarian feed production company Vitafort Zrt. Mr. Kulik has told the news portal that although in the past animal husbandry was the more neglected of the two main industries in agriculture, the situation might change in 2023 as comprehensive agriculture companies are now turning more towards livestock instead of crop cultivation. Mr. Kulik has also commented to the portal that “without the import of Ukrainian maize, the livestock population in Hungary would now be 20-30% lower.”

On the cereal harvest, Mr. Kulik has commented that Hungary managed to reach a total harvest of more than 16 million tons, which would be enough to feed 15-16 million people. On livestock farming, the expert said that cattle and pig production figures have fallen across the whole of Europe, however, Hungary’s position in the pig sector is better than any time in the past two years. Poultry farming however, has faced serious challenges in the past couple of years. On the one hand, livestock health has posed a serious challenge due to Avian influenza. On the other, high energy prices also caused issues for the industry.

New EPR rules mean new administrative responsibilities for small farm owners

With the introduction of the new Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) and concession-based waste management system, the regulations regarding environmental product fees changed on July 1, 2023. Starting from this date, certain products will be subject to both environmental product fees and EPR obligations, reported Agrá this week.

The concession tender was awarded to the Mol corporation, and the corporation’s waste management arm, Mohu has the 35-year concession on waste management in Hungary. The National Chamber for Agriculture has provided online materials for small farmers on how to register in Mohu’s online system. The regulation will affect small-scale farmers, family farms, food industry enterprises, wholesale and retail commercial companies as well as farmers’ collectives. The detailed regulations on the functioning of the EPR system can be found in Government decree 80/2023 (III. 14.).

Asian hornets appeared in Hungary

The first nest of Asian hornets (Vespa velutina) has been found on the island Szigetköz in West Hungary. The Asian hornet is an invasive species that threatens the local fauna but also acts as a dangerous pest as it predates on honeybees.

Minister for Agriculture István Nagy highlighted in a post on his Facebook page that the species first appeared in Europe in France in 2004, having been brought in onboard a Chinese freighter ship. The Minister also commented that it was „only a matter of time” before it would reach Hungary.

Asian hornets are a concern as an invasive species in various countries around the world. If they find bee nests or apiaries, they settle down and specialize in hunting down honeybees. In their native Southeast Asia, they hunt the eastern honeybee, which in turn has evolved to avoid them as well as to use guard bees that coalesce on the hornets en masse and ball them to death. The unsuspecting and unprepared western honeybee, however, is a much easier pray for the invading Asian hornet.

Golden jackals, resurging

Agrá reports that the previously endangered golden jackal (canis aureus) is becoming more and more of a problem for both agriculture as well as nature conservation in Hungary. The popular science portal has reported on the resurgence of the species in 2022. Golden jackals are predators from the family Canidae, which means that they are related to dogs and wolves. They are smaller than wolves and larger than foxes, and in Hungarian they used to be known as “reed wolves” or “meadow wolves” until their disappearance from Hungary in the middle of the 20th century. They reappeared in the 1980s however.

According to Agrá, the wolf-like predators currently behave like invasive predators, threatening small birds and mammals, including multiple endangered and highly endangered species. Since the 1990s, they have been gradually spreading into new regions in Hungary. Golden jackals also threaten lynxes, Central Europe’s other indigenous medium-sized predators, reported by NewScientist last year. Aside from limitations on their hunting, golden jackals’ success in spreading through Hungary is also aided by an imbalance in the local ecosystems due to a lack of large predators. Historically, the species has shared its habitat with wolves and bears in Central Europe until early modernity; and with lions in Southern Europe until the end of antiquity.