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Belgian auctions experienced increase in sales, despite difficult year 2016

Extreme weather and a difficult situation on international markets made production circumstances in Belgium ‘extremely difficult.’ The VBT uses those two words to summarise the previous year in its annual report. Despite this, Belgian auctions saw their sales increasing yet again last year.

Total sales of the affiliated auctions amounted to 926.4 million euro last year. That is half a per cent more than during the year before that. Although that’s a slight increase, it’s clear that at auction level, there were major drops in sales. The Haspengauw auction saw sales decrease by nearly 43 per cent. For the Walloon strawberry auction Criée de Wépion the decrease amounted to almost 40 per cent. This considerable drop in sales was caused by bad weather, so that the auction only realised 60 per cent of its sales over 2015 and 2014.

Weather a deciding factor
The other auctions are responsible for the compensation of these drops and the slight growth. For example, REO Veiling saw its sales increase by 7.3 per cent, and LTV by 5.5 per cent. BelOrta and Veiling Hoogstraten also realised an increase of between 2.1 and 2.2 per cent. 

Results were strongly influenced by the weather. In short, spring started late in 2016. Especially April was a cold, wet and bleak month. This was followed by heavy weather in June, and very dry summer months. The weather was less extreme during the second half of the year, but damage had already been done for the sales of many products.

Belgian greenhouse growers are investing in advancing the seasons, but the Southern European investments in seasonal extension have come at a bad time from that perspective. Last year was also characterised by an overlap of the seasons in the first months of the year, causing pressure on prices. Combined with the persistent Russian boycott, prices for tomatoes, for example, were under pressure early in the year. The image was slightly more positive for greenhouse lettuce. Despite the difficult winter months, there was much demand for lettuce from the export markets late April.

Delayed supply
However, April wasn’t a positive month for outdoor vegetables. The changeable weather with rain, cold wind and hail delayed the start of the season. And the image wasn’t much better two months later. The heavy weather coincided with a heat wave in Southern Europe, which had a negative effect on harvesting in these countries. A period of drought also followed in Belgium, resulting in shortages, according to the VBT. The warm weather in September was positive for lettuce and tomatoes. Prices recovered due to an increased consumption. That effect partially compensated the consequences of the low tomato prices in the first half of the year. For other products, such as chicory, the year ended with good prices. The market for bell peppers was much disturbed due to an early start of Spanish supply.

Results in the fruit sector were also decided by weather influences and the international market situation. For strawberries, this resulted in a decrease of volume of ten per cent. Harvest was lower especially in the spring production. The larger supply during the summer months only partially compensated this loss, and high temperatures near the end of the summer even resulted in a peak. It would take until October before prices normalised.

Difficult year for top fruit
For top fruit, 2016 was no less problematic. The closed Russian border continues to thwart growers, especially for pears in the first half of the year. Despite a good start of the season and good demand form industry, prices are labeled ‘mediocre.’ Prices dropped even more towards summer due to competition from summer fruit. The new season started without overlap, although consequences of hail during the spring were felt. Prices were under pressure due to the supply of damaged fruit. However, the market was smooth and large volumes were sold, so that the year was closed with smaller stocks.

For apples, a similar image was true in the first half of 2016. The Russian boycott and the fruit’s lesser quality resulted in a difficult market. It was especially difficult for export, in part because of competition from Poland and Germany. Prices were under considerable pressure. Just as with pears, the new harvest was strongly influenced by hail in June. Non-harvesting wasn’t approved, so that the damaged harvest had to be sold to industry. That turned out to be a difficult market due to a large European apple harvest and an industry that mostly looked at Eastern European supply. It was positive that the new harvest started on an empty market.

Publication date: 7/12/2017


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