Hungary Newsflash Week 29

Harvest season, meat export figures, COVID-19 regulations and lavender tourism - The last week in Hungarian agriculture

A girl standing in a field of lavender
©Matthew Smith
Lavender fields, with their sweet scent and signature purple hue attract more and more visitors every year, leading to a heated competition in the growing lavender tourism business

Harvest even weaker than expected

As the harvest season is soon to be concluded, damages inflicted upon field crop plantations by the merciless spring weather can now be assessed – And this year’s figures look even bleaker than previously projected by farmers. Fall wheat and oilseed rape were hit hardest, but the droughts left a dent on barley yields as well.

While producers expected mean per hectare yields to reach up to 3 metric tons this year, with half of the rapeseed now harvested, mean yields only reached 2-2.5 tons, about 0.5 tons lower than the averages of previous years. Meanwhile, the winter barley harvest is now 90% finished, and mean yields fall within 3 tons in areas with weaker soils and 6-6.5 tons in lands with ideal conditions. These figures are slightly better than preliminary projections, however, according to Tamás Petőházi of the domestic crop alliance GOSZ, the problem is that protein contents are lower due to the dry period in the spring.

Fall wheat on the other hand, has been hit hard by the drought. Instead of the average 5 million tons, the total fall wheat harvest in Hungary will only reach around 4.3 million tons in 2020. In an average year, the aggregate total output of the summer harvest of wheat, barley and rapeseed is 8.5 million tons – This year however, farmers expect the harvest to reach 7 million tons at best.

Stricter regulations on the entry of foreign workers

Per the Governmental Decree 341/2020 (VII. 12.) which entered into force on July 15, the regulations on the entry of seasonal workers into Hungary have been updated, due to the increasing pandemic threat in the region.

Here are the main rules and conditions for the entry of foreign citizens for the purpose of participating in seasonal agricultural work:

  • Group entry is permissible if the employer notifies the border control office in the area of the intended border crossing point 48 hours before the planned entry, providing the border control authority with information on the entering workers including personal identification document ID numbers (ID card, password, etc), place of work, accommodation and duration of employment.
  • A proof must also be presented that the entering employee has been tested negative for COVID-19 recently.
  • Further border control regulations also continue to apply. Seasonal workers are registered by epidemiologic authorities, and employers must notify these authorities of the employee’s arrival three days before border entry.
  • Documents and explanations on the entry conditions and applicable regulations must be provided by the employer to the employee in written in the employee’s native language.
  • Furthermore, the rules of workplace quarantine apply to seasonal workers and their employers for 14 days following border entry:
    • The employer must arrange group transportation for employees from the border entry point to the place of accommodation, individual travel is not permitted
    • The place of accommodation can only be left for the purpose of work, in a group
    • Meals and other provisions are to be provided by the employer to the workers
    • If a worker experiences any symptoms of illness during the duration of the workplace quarantine, they must notify their employer immediately,
    • Any worker experiencing symptoms of an illness must cease work immediately, they must be separated from other employees, and the employer must notify epidemiologic authorities of the potential case of illness within an hour.
    • Authorities must also be notified of workers leaving at least 48 hours before their planned exit from Hungary.

Pig sector export decreases

In its latest meat sector analysis, the Research Institute of Agricultural Economics reports that the live swine export of the country in the January-April period decreased by 14% to 9.6 thousand tons. The main export partners are Romania, Austria and Slovakia – While export to Romania decreased by 8% and to Austria by 33%, it increased in the direction of Slovakia by 60%. The import of live animals increased however by 38% to 25 thousand tons, and the main exporting countries were Slovakia, Germany and Croatia.

The amount of Hungarian pork meat sold on the international market also decreased, by 6% to 42 thousand tons, and the majority of the export went to Romania, Croatia and Italy. The producer price of domestic pork meat per kilograms of warm carcass weight was €1.51 in June, 6% lower than a year before. However, out of pork cuts, the price of hock/leg increased by 17% and sirloin by 19% since last June.

Rolls of hay on a freshly harvested field
©József Szászi
After the spring weather extremities, summer harvest yields turned out to be even worse than the expectations. Rapeseed and fall wheat suffered the worst blow this year.

Watermelon season starts, summer is officially in full swing

The annual watermelon harvest season started this week, and large, ripe, green watermelons are expected to hit groceries, supermarkets and marketplaces soon. The average Hungarian annually consumes ten kilograms of watermelon. Since the season started later this year, it is expected that domestic watermelons will be available in shops until as late as September.

Watermelon cultivation decreased in land area this year – While normally, 4.5-4.8 thousand hectares are dedicated to melon growing, this year, only 4 thousand hectares were sown with the plant, leading to a projected harvest of about 160 thousand tons. Unfortunately, the outbreak of the COVID-19 crisis coincided with the planting season, which might have contributed to the uncertainty and decrease in planted area sizes. While spring frosts and droughts and later heavy rains affected melon cultivation this year, the availability of better varieties and hybrids will lead to higher yields. Moreover, because the season was delayed, producers are in luck – The overlap in the market with produce imported from Mediterranean countries will be much shorter.

Hungary is the fifth largest watermelon producer in Europe after Spain, Greece, Italy and Romania. The first harvest always starts in the warmer, sunlit south-western and southern counties Baranya and Békés.

Meet the most innovative agrifood startups in Hungary

In June and July 2020, EIT Food holds seventeen online country finals in the startup competition Innovation Prizes. On July 15, the Hungarian finals featured eight agrifood startups covering many agri-innovation solutions ranging from blockchain-based food safety certification through regenerative almond production to indoor farming practices. Find out more on the outcome of the Hungarian finals here.

Lilac fields of lavender

Lavender cultivation is a rising trend in Hungary – Products made from the flower, as well as tourism attracted by the plantations, are convincing more and more to sow their lots with this purple plant of the Lamiaceae family.

While lavender is a commodity used by multiple industries and the sight and sweet scent of the purple fields is rewarding, supply chains have been in disarray since the End of Socialism, with every producer trying to build their own individual networks to sell their produce. As lavender is a Mediterranean plant, it needs lime-rich soils, heat and sunshine to grow and flourish. It can be cultivated in either smaller or larger scale production, however, smaller farms are more labor-intensive due to the lack of machinery and the fact that the minimum viable sown area is five hectares, might also pose a challenge to those farmers who only want to dip a toe into lavender cultivation as a side project. However, lavender earns its keep and can make for a substantive side profit, due to the fact that it can be used as a raw material in various ways. The most popular lavender products in Hungary are lavender oil and dried flowers. A bottle of lavender oil, based on brand and quality, can go for a price ranging between €8 and €57.

Another source of income for lavender farmers however is “lavender tourism”. Various plantations offer pick-your-own programs and visiting tourists are willing to pay nice sums for even photography tickets. Brand-building is important in this young sector because in the market of lavender tourism, there is already a cutthroat competition.

The first lavenders were planted in Hungary in the 1920s. While the lavandula genus has forty-seven species of flowering plants, native to the Old World in places ranging from the Canary Islands to India, and thirty-nine breeds are cultivated around the world, there are only two currently grown in Hungary, the “English” and “French” varieties. The most notable lavender-producing area in the country is the Tihany peninsula located on the northern shore of Lake Balaton.

Photo credit: “girl lavender field” by Matthew Smith, via Flickr.