Hungary Newsflash Week 23

Advancing avian flu, green legislation news, meat industry figures and environmental change - The last week in Hungarian agriculture

A picture of flowering roses with the backdrop of a sunlit wall and the blue, cloudy sky.
©Zoltán Szászi
With the end of May, summer finally arrives. The spring of 2020 has been particularly challenging for agriculture.

HPAI observation areas updated

The updated annex of EU Commission Implementing Decision 47/2020  provides an overview of the newly added observation zones for the H5N8 subtype of the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in Hungary.

The southern counties of Bács-Kiskun, Csongrád and Békés are the main infected areas in the country. HPAI, along with the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic is a severe blow to the Hungarian poultry sector, which faces export market losses and decreasing meat prices. So far 3.8 million animals have been culled on 241 farms since the beginning of HPAI in April 2018.

Green legislation passed by parliament

On Tuesday, the Hungarian parliament passed two acts aiming to bring Hungary to climate neutrality by 2050. Governmental and opposition views differ on the legislation package. According to State Secretary for Energy and Climate Policy Péter Kaderják, this legislation proves that the administration is actively contributing to the fight against climate change, which is also proven by their previous actions, including the energy and climate strategy approved earlier this year and the climate and nature protection action plan put forward by the Prime Minister. The State Secretary also commented that Hungary is one of the countries with an excellent track record of combatting climate change.

However, opposition MP Bence Tordai (Dialogue for Hungary Party), one of the original proponents of the legislation and one of the MPs who voted against it on Tuesday, stated they were not supporting the acts in their current forms because all substantial elements were taken out of the package, including the decreased value added tax on solar panels, subsidies for improving the energy efficiency of households, and the lifting of bans on wind turbines.

Independent NGOs co-signed a statement, saying that while the legislation package includes progressive elements, its goals are not ambitious enough to provide an answer to the climate crisis.

Considerable agricultural weather damages

With the end of the spring season, farmers have a clearer picture of the extent of weather damages – Which proved to be quite substantial. Rapeseed cultivation suffered massively due to the ongoing drought. Wheat yields are also drastically affected. There is still hope for late-growing wheat varieties, but overall, wheat yields will be mixed to low this year. Precipitation have been sporadic and localized, often covering no more than a few square kilometers, which isn’t favorable for cereals. Moreover, regional storm and rain outbursts led to more humidity, which, combined with cooler temperatures in the past weeks, created ideal conditions for fungal wheat diseases.

Fruit production suffered unprecedented losses, 40% overall in the season, due to frost damages. (Our previous report on frost damages can be found here). According to the National Chamber of Agriculture (NAK), this year’s frost damages are unique. While spring cold storms usually affect isolated fruit varieties in the flowering season, this year, periodic frosts occurred from March until May, affecting every single fruit variety from the earliest apricot flowers to even woodland strawberries in the middle of May. This means that every fruit orchard and plantation was hit by the freezing weather, without regard to the starting and ending of individual flowering periods.

Hungarian meat output increases in Q1

According to output figures at the end of the first quarter of 2020, the number of slaughtered animals increased since 2019. In the poultry sector, 56.8 million fowls have been slaughtered so far, an 6.4% increase compared to 2019 Q1. 80% of these animals were chickens, 15.5% and 3.1% ducks and geese, respectively.

In the pig sector, the output of slaughter houses increased by 1.2%, 1.172 million animals have been slaughtered. Pork export increased by 8%, import by 27%, with twice as much pork meat imported than exported in Q1. Cattle meat production also increased. 25.8 thousand animals have been slaughtered, with an increase of 3.1% in live weight and 2.2% in carcass weight. The output of lamb and mutton decreased however – 7.4 thousand sheep have been slaughtered, which is a 16% decrease from 2019 Q1 figures.

Double standards in food quality – Hungarian law amended

The longstanding debate on the double standard of certain food quality products between Eastern and Western EU member states reached an important point in Hungary. Act 2008/46 on the Food Chain and its Authority Oversight was amended, ratified on June 5th by the National Assembly. One of the most important changes in the new amendments is that the first distributor is responsible for maintaining the same EU-wide standard in ingredients and proprieties of a given food product on the Hungarian domestic market without discrimination. Source: www.parliament.hu

Teh Danube surrounded by green forests at the Szentendre island, north of Budapest, Hungary.
©Dániel Komlós
The River Danube at Szentendre island, north of Budapest. The Danube, Europe's second-longest river, is a major artery in regional plant cultivation, trade, culture and the natural environment, as well as the primary shaper of the face of the Hungarian capital. However, due to extensive river regulations in the past two hundred years, the environment of the river is changing - Endangering agriculture in the process.

Bonafarm Group tests manure management system

The Bonafarm Group, the largest Hungarian agricultural conglomerate is testing a manure management remote monitoring system, developed by the Hungarian startup ‘Okosfarm’. The ICT development was introduced in the innovation platform of the Hungarian Chamber of Agriculture (NAK TechLab).  This system covers the entire process of the manure management machinery. It monitors efficiency and can project potential errors. Managing experts have 24 hours access via mobile phone or tablets. Source: www.agrarszektor.hu

New campaign against ragweed

The National Food Chain Safety Office (NÉBIH) launches a new information campaign on ragweed removal. The campaign is scheduled to end in October. In its first phase, NÉBIH will provide information materials in news portals and social media on ragweed, and in later phases the project will include poster campaigns as well as the provision of ragweed handbooks for pupils in schools.

Ragweed removal is both an agricultural as well as epidemiological issue. While in plantations, ragweed reduces crop yields, it also presents a public health issue for those with seasonal allergies.

Environmental change: Dangers in the River Danube

According to the findings of the three-year-long DanubeSediment research project led by the Budapest University of Technology and Economics and involving scientists from nine countries in the Danube river basin, the riverbed and the environment of the Danube is going through an alarming transformation due to anthropomorphic environmental change and the conscious alterations of the river system. These changes can potentially drastically impact human societies, economies and trade as well as many aspects of life, including agriculture.

Since the 19th century, the river's channel has been considerably altered over the centuries. Riverbed regulations have shortened the total length of the Danube by 134 kilometers, which subsequently made the flood plain strips around the river basin to decrease  - In certain places, these flood plains has shrunk from the width of 10 kilometers to under 1 kilometer. While previously, the river transported an annual 40-60 million metric tons of sediment to the Black Sea, this has decreased to 15-20 million tons. Due to riverbed regulations and the construction of dams as well as the tightening of the channel, flow speeds have increased and with less sediment, the Danube has started carving deeper into its riverbed.

This directly impacts agriculture in a major way. Due to this development, water levels in the river will also be physically lower, which means that soils in the lands surrounding the river will start drying out as soil water levels act as communicating vessels together with the river and they will consequently decrease as they come into a new equilibrium with the river.

What is more is that the Danube affects the water levels of all of its tributaries – Similar to the ebb and flow of the tide in seas which pushes up or pulls down water levels in rivers, the fact that the water in the Danube is physically lowering will also decrease water levels in all its tributaries up in the river water system, and will in turn, lead to the drying of soils surrounding those rivers as well.

The River Danube is the second-largest river in Europe, with the second largest drainage basin, stretching across ten European countries – A land area 801.5 thousand km2 in size. In the case of Hungary, the entire area of the country falls within the Duna river basin. (See our article on droughts and floods here)