Hungary Newsflash Week 7, 2022

Bocine tuberculosis found in Eastern Hungary, producer prices skyrocketing, wildfires endangering nature, honey prices too high for the domestic market, and the perilous situation of the country's swallows which will have negative effects both for farming and for public health - The week in Hungarian agriculture

Barn swallow chicks
Beeld: ©Brocken Inaglory | Wikimedia
Barn swallow chicks after leaving the nest. Hungary's swallow population dropped by 50% in the past two decades, and the disappearance of this many insectivores has a negative effect both on farming and on human health.

Bovine tuberculosis identified at a Hungarian animal farm

Bovine tuberculosis was found present in cattle livestock at a facility in Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg County, in Eastern Hungary, reported the National Food Chain Safety Office (NÉBIH) at the end of last week.

The disease was found through routine quarantine and testing procedures conducted on newly acquired livestock. NÉBIH has confirmed the presence of the infection through laboratory testing and later detected the disease at the farm of origin, and has instituted transport restrictions at the farm.

With the unified veterinary inspection system, per EU regulation, the authorities made sure that meat from the infected cattle would not be used for human consumption.

In Hungary, cattle livestock has to be annually subjected to intradermal testing for bovine tuberculosis, and NÉBIH also conducts routine testing on samples from domestic and wild mammals. There are cases of infection with the disease in free grazing populations almost every year, especially in Western Hungary. The authorities keep a close eye on the situation because a serious outbreak would endanger Hungary’s cattle sector and the country’s official status of freedom from the disease.

Producer prices skyrocketed in December

According to the most recent data by Hungary’s Central Statistical Office (KSH), purchase prices in last December had increased by a staggering 31% compared to the figures from the previous year. Average monthly price increase figures in 2021 were 19.3%, and the price increase in December was 2.8 percentage points higher than a month before.

The acceleration of the price increase of field crops and horticultural products between November and December was 2.6 percentage points, reaching a total 38.6%. In the case of live animals and animal products the acceleration was 5.6 percentage points to 15.4%, of which the rise in the producer price of live animals rose by 9.8 percentage points to 17.5%.

The price of pigs for slaughter was 7.4% lower in November than a year before, however, by December the price had risen to a net 7.3% increase, which is a change of 14.7 percentage points in the span of a month.

Out of field crops and cereals, the price increase of wheat grain was on average 38.6% more expensive. The annual rise in wheat prices rose by 10.3 percentage points to 54.6%, while the price increase of maize rose by 6.2 percentage points to 57.0%. The price increase of potato was 55.7% in December, up 21.6 percentage points from 34.1% in November.

Hungarian honey is becoming too expensive for the domestic market

The economic news portal Világgazdaság reports that due to poor yields in 2021 and high international prices, Hungarian honey is reaching price levels that domestic consumers are unwilling to pay.

Péter Bross, head of the national alliance of beekepers in Hungary has told the news portal that in the case of acacia honey, only producers located in the Transtisza region (Eastern Hungary) reached acceptable yields. Mr. Bross also commented that 90% of Hungary’s acacia honey is sold on the market directly by beekepers. The reason for this is that prices are already so high that selling through retail chains would not be profitable. At local farmers’ markets, producer acacia honey costs between €8.45 and €12.7 per kilogram.

In the last few years, imported honey has made an entrance on the Hungarian market. While traders have so far been avoiding cheaper Chinese product, they are happy to import honey from Ukraine. While there is still honey in storage at beekeepers, the window for supplying honey trading companies is closing as large amounts of foreign honey is being imported into Hungary.

Wildfire in a protected Natura 2000 area in the Bükk National Park
Beeld: ©Bükk National Park
Wildfires ravage a protected grassland area in the Bükk National Park, North-Eastern Hungary, in February, 2022.

End-of-winter wildfires ravage nature again

The Bükk National Park in Northeastern Hungary reports that a Natura 2000 area has been recently burned by wildfire. Every year, frequent wildfires caused by human neglect and worsened by the relatively warm and dry weather damage nature and protected areas in the late winter period.

According to the national park’s directorate, a 23-hectare segment of the protected area has been damaged by this latest fire, commenting also that every year, the effort to contain and stop the fires takes up vast amounts of both financial resources and manpower, involving fire departments but also forestry professionals and national park rangers.

A part of the problem is that wildfires often spread from the burning of illegal waste dumps, the burning of which emit large amounts of toxic, harmful and often carcinogenic materials into the air. Runaway wildfires caused by illegal garbage burning increase the levels of cinder, ash and dust in the atmosphere.

The current fire, which damaged protected grassland, bushland and reed areas, was fortunately contained in time and did not cause too much damage to blossoming protected flowers, especially the endangered greater pasque flower.

Hungary’s swallow population dropped by 50% in two decades

According to a recent report by Hungary’s Hungarian Ornithological and Nature Conservation Society (MME), the country’s swallow population has dropped by a staggering 50% in the past twenty years. This imbalance has a considerable negative effect on both the natural environment as well as human agriculture.

According to the ornithological society, the main culprits behind the disappearance of swallows are habitat destruction, a decrease in food sources, climate change and human activities (including the destruction of nests and the chasing away of nesting birds settling in domestic outdoors environments).

MME conducts a range of activities from social outreach to habitat reconstruction to help swallow populations heal. They recommend a number of activities for citizens who are concerned with the swallows’ situation, including the installment of artificial nests and catching nets for swallow droppings around the nests (the central reason for the conflict between humans and swallows), the reconstruction of sandy cliff sides for burrowing, and of course, the reporting of any destruction of nests to the authorities.

A central reason for the drastic drop in swallow populations is the widespread use of pesticides. The chemical agents usually employed in agricultural production cannot differentiate between insect pests and other species, wiping out entire arthropod populations and robbing insectivore swallows of their food source.

This, however, will lead to more insect pests in the long run. Currently there are two million swallows “missing” from Hungary, and this imbalance in the food chain can lead to an overabundance of pest species. As one swallow consumes around 1 kg of flying insects in the nesting period (flies, fruit flies, etc.), with the disappearance of half of the country’s swallows, roughly two thousand tons of pest insects remain in Hungary’s ecosystems every year.

To make matters worse, Hungary’s health geography is also shifting with climate change and new disease vector species (insects, mosquitos) are appearing in the country. Swallows (as well as bats) are some of the main predators of these species – And thus the dramatic reduction in their populations is also robbing Hungary of a natural line of defense against the diseases which will appear in the coming years.

We would like to thank the Bükk National Park for allowing us to use their photo of the recent wildfire in this Newsflash. The photo was originally published in this article.