Hungary: Ukrainian honey removed from import ban list

Agriculture subsidies until 2027  will be worth €7.49 billion; spring frosts causing more and more damage in horticulture; vegetable prices rapidly rising in 2024; new agriculture AI developed by university - Our weekly briefing on agriculture, food and nature news in Hungary

Honey producer in an apiary inspecting a beehive
Beeld: ©Bianca Ackermann

Hungary to allow the import of Ukrainian honey

Agrá reports that Monday evening, a new governmental decree came out which allows the import of Ukrainian honey into the country. This is, according to the portal, an “interesting decision,” considering that “the domestic honey industry has protested multiple times against the influx of Ukrainian honey,” on which we have also reported here.

The news regulation removes honey from the government’s 24-item list of Ukrainian agricultural products that are banned from entry. (Line 8, “natural honey,” Annex I, Governmental decree 130/2023. (IV. 18.)).

On Wednesday, the news portal reported on how the Ministry of Agriculture and the minister commented on the news. According to the ministry’s explanation, “the decision became necessary because according to industrial feedback, even Hungarian producers have been at a disadvantage, because domestic processing companies didn’t have access to import honey, which led them to be at a competitive disadvantage compared to international competitors in other EU markets, which would lead them to lose their customers, to whom they are also selling Hungarian honey.”

Minister István Nagy commented on his Facebook page that, “If we want to sell our acacia honey, then we will need the mixed honey, for abroad. We ran out of mixed honey in the country. The Ukrainian honey is not needed for domestic consumption but for immediate export. Which gives us a chance to sell acacia honey. That’s the situation.”

Agrá reports that in many beekeepers are expressing disillusionment.

One beekeeper told the portal that “the lifting of the ban is good for some players in the market, but terrible for actual beekeepers. Although it’s true that traders haven’t been buying producers’ honey. I guess that’s because their storages were full of Ukrainian honey, and it took this long for them to run out.” The producer added for the portal, “I feel like there is no organization standing behind Hungarian producers which would stand up for them and support them.”

Péter Bross, head of the National Hungarian Beekeeper Association, told the news portal that in practice the import of Ukrainian honey will have no effect because two to three years ago, the import of Ukrainian honey was at its highest, 75 thousand tons, and since 20 to 30% less Ukrainian honey is coming into the EU, the price of Hungarian honey halved, so there is no relation.

€7.49 billion in agriculture subsidies until 2027, organic farming a priority reports that around €7.49 billion will be available for agricultural subsidies from EU sources and national coupled support. Dr. Péter Roszik, head of the Hungarian Bioculture Alliance commented that in a substantial number of calls, applicants who comply with sustainability criteria will be at an advantage.

The portal further adds that subsidies for agroforestry, plantation, animal farm facilities, cold storages, post-harvest investments, and food industry facility development will be scheduled for the coming spring, in which organic farmers can count on 10% higher support levels.

Spring frosts cause serious damages

A new overview on the state of climate-induced damages in Hungary has been recently published by Agrárá According to the article, in the past decade, environmental damages were worth €1.3 billion in Hungarian agriculture annually. In ten years, frost damages in agriculture tripled. A major reason for this is that winters are becoming milder, and bud burst happens as much as 15 to 20 days earlier. The mild end-winter period however is often followed by severe cold snaps in the spring, which severely damage blooming crops. The trend will probably continue as the Carpathian Basin is warming at a rate faster than the global average, and mild winter temperatures in February make horticultural crops more and more vulnerable to damages caused by spring frosts.

These crops are particularly susceptible to damage from cold fronts coming in from Arctic regions. Apricot, cherry, plum, grape crops can sustain severe or even total yield loss within hours. According to the portal, it is very important that farmers who grow cherries, apples, apricots, sour cherries, and grapes find new climate-adaptational technologies as projections show that in the 2050s and 2060s, the yield of these crops will drop by 85-90% if the current trends continue.

Vegetables became very expensive in January reports that in January 2024, the prices of certain vegetables increased drastically. Tomatoes and bell peppers stand out; the price of tomatoes increased 21% y-o-y, the price of bell peppers (known as sweet paprika in Hungary), increased by 17%, y-o-y. The price of onions was 13% higher. The portal adds that in the past two years, vegetable prices increased by 66% on average.

Prices have been generally increasing across the food industry, Trademagazin highlights. According to the overview, the current vegetable price hikes were primarily caused by the increased packaging costs, but the increasing operating costs of retailers also played a role. Sales volumes however, have been decreasing. The National Chamber of Agriculture (NAK) expressed concern for rising prices, especially with the possibility of spring frosts in the coming period. They stress that it is important that consumers prepare for rising prices and “shop responsibly” while farmers must prepare to deal with environmental challenges.

Agriculture AI developed at Hungarian university

OTPAgrá reports that a robot equipped with artificial intelligence built at the Széchenyi István University has received a utility model patent protection. The small-sized robot was developed by the Albert Kázmér Faculty in Mosonmagyaróvár. The unit is able to identify various parameters in its environment, store the gathered data in the cloud, and support precision plant cultivation.

The robot’s onboard suite includes air temperature, humidity and sunlight sensors, a soil probe, which detects soil pH levels, conductivity, and potassium levels. In its first field application, the robot was deployed in a tomato plantation where it was able to identify the plants’ leaves and foliage discolorations, do fruit counting and yield estimation. The researchers commented that the robot is able to support precision farming, however, since it is small-sized and its maintenance is cheap, its possible applications extend beyond agriculture, and it might be used in other industries as well.