Hungary Newsflash Week 4

Precision agriculture in education, agroecology-based crop research, meat sector news and the decline of theHungarian garlic - The week in Hungarian agriculture

Tomato plant saplings
©Markus Spiske
The ÖMKi institute's indigenous tomato cultivation program aims to provide tomato crop options to farmers which are adaptable and compatibel with agroecological growing. The sapling donation campaign started in 2017, and recently, two new indigenous varieties were included in the program.

Hungarian university launches online precision agriculture program

As an answer to the modern challenges farmers face today, the Agriculture Faculty of the University of Szeged has launched a new online blended learning program, the Sustainable precision horticulture engineer major.

The blended education program will focus on online learning in the theoretical parts of the curriculum while the practice-based courses will be organized as regular lessons at specialized locations.

The new program is aimed at students with a higher degree in post-secondary education (vocational/trade school diploma) in the fields of science and agriculture. The curriculum will focus on modern, agroecology-based, sustainable practices in greenhouse horticulture, with the goal of training new specialists with practice-centered knowledge.

Pork prices peaked in 2020

The price of pork meat started rising in Hungary in 2019, reaching the previous high which had been observed between 2013 and 2014. In 2020, pork ham (bone-out, without shank) reached a price of €4.26/kg, setting a new record. With this, pork prices in Hungary increased by 14% last year.

From the fall of 2019, until March, 2020, the wholesale price of live pigs continually increased in Hungary, and then the trend started turning around. While the wholesale price of pigs gradually declined, the price of pork meat paradoxically increased. When pig farmers are unable to sell their animals with a weight between 110-130 kg (where they are in the ideal weight for slaughter), the pigs will fatten further, to as high as 150-160 kg, which makes them more undesirable.

Practitioners in the sector blame the plummeting prices on dwindling domestic consumption and on the loss of demand from the HORECA sectors. The high pork meat prices, however, frustrate pig farmers and consumers alike. Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic, the ongoing effects of the ASF livestock epidemic and Brexit will probably affect the sector in the foreseeable future.

Close-up of a curious pig's snout sticking out of behind a fence.
©Pexels
Since the spring of 2020, live pig wholesale prices have been dropping while paradoxically, pork meat prices have been increasing - Frustrating consumers and farmers alike.

Chinese garlic is just too cheap

The news portal Agrárszektor reports that although Hungarian growers produce high-quality garlic, domestic production has been declining for years – Leading to a massive influx of Chinese garlic into the market. Chinese import garlic can go for as low as €0.31/kg.

The news portal reports that Hungarian garlic production has been shrinking for the last two years. While in 2019, the total production area of garlic was between 850 and 860 hectares in the country, las year this figure decreased to 797 ha. There are multiple reasons behind this decline. One is the high level of competition in the market. Another is that the average age of farmers is increasing and as they retire, the number of garlic growers decreases every year. A third reason is the increasing price of labor and input costs in the sector, which means that small hold growers, using outdated technology, see their profits shrink rapidly – Eventually forcing them to close down.

While Hungary annually grows on average 6-8 thousand tons of garlic, the country also imports 800-1200 tons from abroad, primarily from China but also from Spain and North Africa. Chinese garlic usually enters the EU through other member states, and most of the Chinese garlic export to Hungary actually goes through the Netherlands.

Agroecologically Attractive Hungarian Tomatoes

Hungarian indigenous tomatoes are here, they’re single, and ready to mingle. The Hungarian Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (ÖMKi) has been researching traditional crops for years for the purpose of adapting them into modern, agroecology-based horticulture. ÖMKi has examined 35 traditional tomato varieties from the stores of the Center for Plant Diversity and has been working together with the Szent István University since 2015, testing ten of these varieties over three growing seasons.

The three best varieties have been introduced to growers in 2017 in a sapling donation campaign, and have been available commercially since 2019. Last year, two more varieties have been added to this list of promoted traditional, indigenous crops.

Although tomatoes originate from the Americas, in this case, the term indigenous refers to crops which, over decades or centuries, successfully adapted to the local climate and ecology. They show more diversity in appearance, shape, smell and taste than modern domesticated crops.

Previously, in our drought article and in this newsflash from last summer, we discussed ÖMKi’s successes with endemic traditional wheat varieties intended for agroecologic farming.