Hungary Newsflash Week 11, 2022

Labor shortages continue, an environmental disaster in the making, skyrocketing animal feed prices and new plans for the fostering of organic farming in Hunary - The week in Hungarian agriculture

Grape harvest
With labor shortages continuing to cause issues for all sectors across the economy, the question is how will this impact the labor-intensive sectors of the agriculture industry.

Animal feed prices skyrocketing in Hungary

The news site Agrárszektor reports that the current food price increase trend will continue to hold out in the coming period in Hungary.

The government’s export control measure is now somewhat hindering the rise of cereal prices. (The price of maize decreased from around €295 to €249.5 per metric ton in a week. The price of wheat went from €334.2 in the beginning of March to €296.5 per ton currently.)

However, the prices of oil and rapeseed shot out and there is also a shortage of these cereals and derived products, causing supply problems for feed producers. The reason for this is the general shortage of sunflower on the European market – A commodity that is very dependent on Russian exports. The price of sunflower seed in Hungary has reached €754.42 per ton in March, doubling compared to its price last year.

Environmental disaster in the making: River pollution from Slovakia approaching Hungary

Örs Orosz, a county council member in the Nitra region in South-Western Slovakia has posted on Facebook last Sunday that an ecological catastrophe was in the making in the region as industrial sludge has reached the River Sajó on the Slovakian side.

Mr. Orosz has also reported on his public page that he acquired a field test report from the Slovakian environmental protection authorities, dated February 24, which stated that at that time, 2.4 metric tons of industrial waste reached the river every day. Mr. Orosz commented that the field test report listed the leakage of arsenic as well.

The authorities in Hungary report that they only learned about the situation from social media.

Gabriella Sipos, press secretary of the Hungarian General Directorate of Water Management has told the news portal Telex on Monday that the Hungarian authorities had not yet detected changes in the river’s pH and oxygen levels.

On Wednesday, March 16, the General Directorate has informed the news agency MTI that the pollution is in fact not red mud but iron oxide leaking from an iron ore mine in a shut-down plant called Sliderit in Slovakia.

The General Directorate has also stressed in their press statement that since they have not received any official communication from their Slovakian counterpart, the Hungarian authorities are officially requesting through the Hungarian-Slovakian Border Water Commission that Slovakia commence disaster management efforts per the Danube River Protection Convention.

The Hungarian authorities have put into place environmental damage and water pollution measures in Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén county where the river enters Hungary.

The Sajó (Slaná) River originates in the Slovak Ore Mountains and is a subsidiary of the River Tisza.

The River Tisza, in turn, is one of the cardinal rivers of the water systems of the Carpathian Basin, and is a major subsidiary of the River Danube. t crosses a large segment of the Hungarian Great Plains, and is home to diverse flora and fauna including highly endangered species like the indigenous Tisza Mayfly, which is one of Europe’s last extant Mayfly species and only resides in the channel and backwaters of the River Tisza.

Red sludge or iron oxide? 

When talking about river pollution, it is important to distinguish different possible contaminants that might look similar. Red sludge, or red mud, is a caustic industrial waste. It is bauxite residue, composed of various oxide compounds, generated while turning bauxite into aluminum. On October 4, 2010, a major industrial accident in Ajka, Western Hungary occurred, during which a dam on one of the local aluminum plant’s reservoirs burst, spilling red sludge over the nearby area and devastating the nearby villages Kolontár and Devecser, causing ten civilian deaths, injuring hundreds and leading to considerable environmental damage through dangerous pollution which reached even the River Danube.

In Hungarians’ recent memory, red sludge has been firmly imprinted as a danger factor and environmental worry. The current river pollution in Slovakia however, is made up of iron oxide leaking from an old iron ore mine. This in itself is loosely the same group of materials that give a red hue to human blood, rusted steel and the surface of Planet Mars.

The River Sajó in Hungary on a sunny summer day
Beeld: ©SzGabesz
The River Sajó near Kesznyéten, Hungary.

Companies expect continued labor shortages

As the spring season brings about a labor-intensive period in agriculture, companies in the wider economy are now calculating with continued labor shortages – Which will cause issues for farming as well.

The Institute for Economics and Enterprise Research (GVI) of the Hungarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has recently published the results of a survey on the private sphere’s expectations regarding business disruptions due to the labor situation.

According to the results, just 7% of all companies expect the labor shortage situation to improve, 52% think that the situation will not change soon and 41% fear even greater shortages in the near future.

Two thirds of the respondents had a vacancy at the beginning of the year, and more than 23% had more than ten unfilled positions. 69% already faced difficulties due to labor shortages last year.

Apparently, small to mid-sized businesses of 20 to 49 employees are the least impacted, however, more than 50% of them are still affected by labor shortages.

The survey also assessed companies’ strategies in dealing with the labor situation. 51% of them try to solve the issue with atypical employment options (E.g. part-time employment, remote work, etc.), 43% try to fill the gap in their workforce with student work, 34% look for new recruitment strategies, and 33% of them tried raising wages. 25% of them employ migrant workers.

21% of the companies started investing into technologies to replace human labor, however, this figure might increase to 27% throughout the year.

GVI also added that at this point, labor shortage is already a bigger issue for Hungarian companies than it was before the pandemic.

New action plan for organic farming in the making

The Ministry of Agriculture has announced a new action plan for the support and fostering of the development of organic farming in Hungary. The new action plan will cover the period between 2022 and 2027.

Dr. Dóra Drexler, general manager at the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (ÖMKi) has commented that for a successful organic transition, farmers need “advisory services, accessible market data, sectoral development and marketing cooperation.”

The plan includes new target figures for an increased share of organic products in the domestic food trade as well as the increase of the per capita consumption of organic products in Hungary.

The policy also aims to double the number of food processing plants in Hungary that produce organic food and local eco products and to raise the number of young farmers in the country who are engaged in organic farming to two thousand.

Image credit: SzGabesz via Wikimedia