Hungary Newsflash Week 17

Drought management, agrifinances, avian flu and triumphant strawberries - The last week in Hungarian agriculture

An opening bud is seen on the branch of a tree
Beeld: ©Lívia Kósa
The spring season is here but agriculture faces challanges due to the drought, the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic effects, avian influenza. Governmental policy instruments have been put into place to combat these effects.

Agricultural governance and the pandemic

In Hungary, the most crucial aspect of the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on agriculture  is the issue of financing. The “Széchenyi Agricultural Card” is a financial instrument, routinely used for financing loans. Through this instrument, the government now offers interest-free loans of up to HUF 200 million (€564.4 thousand, twice the regular amount).

According to TakarékBank, a banking corporation active in agro financing, agriculture was less severely hit than other sectors.

Largest union unhappy with the share of Hungarian products in commerce

The Hungarian alliance National Chamber of Agriculture (NAK) is now pressuring domestic retail chains to sell more Hungarian products and to prioritize them over cheaper import goods. NAK is lobbying the government to employ administrative punitive measures against stores that do not offer a sufficient amount of Hungarian products. NAK mentions the pig sector, which faced challenges because of the African Swine Fever, and now domestic pork is more expensive than import meat.

Serbian-Hungarian border is open again for daily commuters

As of 6:00 am April 23rd, the Serbian-Hungarian border section is open again for commuters who have daily business on the other side of the border. The waiver was promoted by two Hungarian MPs with constituencies near the Serbian border. It affects farmers and agribusinesses operating on both sides of the border. The reopening is a result of an agreement between the Hungarian foreign minister Péter Szijjártó and Serbian interior minister Nebojsa Stefanovic.

The designated border crossing points are: Röszke-Horgos, Tompa-Kelebia, Hercegszántó-Backi Breg

Avian influenza

Avian flu continues to present a challenge to the poultry sector. No new outbreaks were reported during week 17, the last reports came from the Csongrád, Southern Hungary on April 15 and so far seven outbreaks have been reported by the authorities. However, the combined effects of the economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the sporadic appearances of avian flu mount a pressure on domestic poultry producers. The sector has already been shrinking, there is one hundred fewer companies (-12%) in operation than there were in 2016.

First hit by avian flu were waterfowls and there will be fewer Hungarian ducks and geese sold this year. The total number of killed and disposed waterfowls is 226 333, which is a significant blow to the industry in these hard times. In order to decrease the burden on poultry farmers, the Ministry of Agriculture introduced simplified submission procedures for animal welfare subsidies.

(For more on the current Avian Flu situation in Hungary, check out our previous article on the topic.)

Flowers are seen on a cherry tree.
Beeld: ©Amin Eisam Eldeen
Fruit trees are in full bloom and the extent of the frost damages will be clear by the end of May.

Unrelenting climate

The drought continues in Hungary. An official “Persistently Water-Stressed Period” has been announced, and water usage fees for irrigation, rice production and aquaculture have been waived. Emergency water measures are in place, which means that in this period, producers can use water for extra irrigation one time without the sufficient permits. Flooding is also a problem in certain places in the Great Plains.

The issue is that while spring droughts have been causing significant damages in agriculture for the past three years, the current water management system focuses on flood protection and redirection, and the considerable amount of flood water from the two yearly floods is not utilized in replenishing water reserves. So far, the drought has caused damages in over 600 hectares of agricultural land this season.

(Read more about the drought and frost issues in our previous article here).

Data collection Hungarian Agricultural Census 2020

In the coming period, the Central Statistical Office in Hungary will conduct a comprehensive agricultural census. The aim of the survey is to monitor changes in the structure of agriculture and to provide accurate and credible data for domestic economic governance, the EU and farmers, to which data providers contribute greatly with their participation and accurate data. Data collection is required by law in EU Member States. The census will provide a realistic, objective picture of Hungarian agriculture, changes in the sector, farmers, the private sector, state and non-governmental organizations and EU institutions with quality statistical data.

From biofuel to hand sanitizer

Corn processor company Hungrana, in the midst of the crisis, turned from producing bioethanol for biofuel in order to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. The company donated more than sixteen hundred bottles of their own freshly created hand sanitizer product to NAK for redistribution to farmers in the sector in the name of cooperation and societal involvement in the face of the crisis.

Woodland strawberry’s rise to glory

Despite the frost damages in the past weeks, the mild winter was ideal for woodland strawberry production and the harvest is expected to be bountiful this year. Greenhouse-grown strawberries are hitting groceries this week and in the middle of May, the produce from the open fields will arrive. Every year between 700 and 800 hectares of land is used for strawberry production in Hungary, producing 4.8-6 thousand metric tons of fruit per year. This season, woodland strawberry is being cultivated over 700 hectares of land and a harvest of about 10-12 thousand tons of produce is expected.

Although due to the costs of greenhouse production, Spanish and Greek strawberry is cheaper in this season, due to the pandemic crisis, this year there will be less foreign strawberry, and at a lower quality, than in previous years.

One of the most iconic woodland strawberry producing areas in the country is the village Csököly in Somogy county, in Southwestern Hungary, known for its strawberry products, strawberry pálinka and strawberry festival.