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An internship in Poland by Liza Lievens

An insight into cultivation and trading of Polish blueberries

This summer student Liza Lievens is in Poland for an internship in blueberry trading and cultivation. She writes about it in this article. 

"Throughout the season, I live and work with the family company AgroTrade, in Piła, near Poznan in western Poland. They trade in blueberries for export and also own a blueberry plantation. In this article, I am happy to explain about my experience with the cultivation and trading of blueberries in Poland."


Liza is picking blueberries.

Why Poland?
I have chosen my internship in Poland because I worked a lot with Polish people during my other internships. Many Poles are working in the horticulture business in Western Europe, including the Netherlands. Salaries in the West are about 4 times higher than in Poland. The Netherlands is very highly ranked in horticulture, due to its focus on efficiency. Abroad however, there are generally more square meters available for agriculture and horticulture, whereas transport is often more challenging because of longer distances. Furthermore, there is a different climate which obviously also affects horticulture.

Meeting Poles in the Netherlands and having the opportunity to see the differences in horticulture in my own country and abroad, in Poland, is one of the reasons why I applied for an internship in here. In addition, I have a lot of interest in other cultures and languages. Moreover, this is most likely the last time I can experience this as an intern. As in the future I probably will work together with Poles, I find it interesting to get to know their culture better and speak their language.


Picking and packaging at AgroTrade.

AgroTrade
AgroTrade works with independent blue berry farms for which they trade part of the harvest for export. The blueberries are exported mainly to Scandinavia, Great Britain, Germany and the Netherlands. This year, the harvest started in week 28, 2 weeks later than usual due to low temperatures in spring and slowed down vegetation of blueberries. The first harvest period is just over, as well as the peak of the season. There were a lot of concerns about the blueberry harvest in general in Europe because of the late frost. Although it was freezing  -9 degrees in May, in some regions in Poland, the plantation where I do my internship (in Pila, near Poznan) and their partner plantations don't have that much damage. This is also true for the organic plantations.

Track & Trace
The weeks before harvest we have been busy installing track and trace systems.

By digitizing stock data and labelling at box level, the loss of lower quality berries becomes smaller and the harvest is optimally utilized for first class export. The companies involved in this project are MaxCrop, a Polish company specializing in track and trace on the field, in particular, optimizing production, planning and personnel registration, and Flex2b, a Belgian company specializing in warehousing management. Both companies work with bar codes, so the chain is well registered to the customer.


Left: workers from AgroTrade en on the right picture Sandra, one of the owners.

Blueberry cultivation in Poland
The cultivation of blueberries is increasing in Poland, both at large and small companies. Poland's position in the blueberries sector is mainly due to group work rather than to big corporations dominating the market. Staff costs are about 4 times lower than in Western Europe,. While the Polish economy is improving and employment is growing, many Ukrainians now come to Poland to work, mainly in agriculture and horticulture. A large number of Polish growers have anti-hail nets against the hail and birds, as well as hail cannons. Against the frost, it is common to moan. In addition, more and more growers are investing in better water systems and tunnels.

Climate

Poland is divided into two climatic zones, including a moderate marine climate in the north and west of the country and a country climate in the east and south.

Blueberry cultivation in Poland is spread all over the country. This is a positive factor for exporting as it provides choices in products and a constant supply of berries since there are 1-2 weeks of climatic difference between the west and east there. Because blueberries are cultivated throughout Poland, Poland has a longer harvest season than Western Europe. Growers plant more late breeds such as Aurora and Liberty in order to extend the season while waiting  for the first blueberries coming from Latin America.



Quality
To meet the quality requirements for export, quality courses for growers are being organized and the companies must be Global GAP certified. GRASP extension to the GlobalGap, defining social standards in farming, is a novelty, and the AgroTrade blueberry plantation where I am currently working was the first one in Poland to undergo an audit in this field. In addition, the blueberries are mainly picked by hand, which ensures better quality control during harvest. Recently, there has been a lot of demand for organic blueberries. Poland could respond well to this demand because blueberries are often grown on former (very fertile) forest or unutilized soil and picked by hand. In addition, the rules for the use of chemical pesticides in Poland are stricter than on average in the EU. As a result, Polish growers have to limit their use of pesticides and this makes them more tempted to go organic.

Competition
In southern Poland, the season starts at the same time as in Western Europe except for the Polish season generally to last longer. The western countries do not consider Poland as a competitor because on their markets, demand for blueberries exceeds home grown supply. Poland therefore is able to  export larger volumes since domestic consumption is relatively low for now. In fact, most of the blueberries are being exported. However, as overall consumption of blueberries continues to rise, consumption in Poland is also starting to rise. A phenomenon particular for larger cities in Poland and abroad. Furthermore, the quality of Polish berries is good at this time and it is improving. A good addition to the assortment for Western Europe.

Poland’s main competitors are Romania, Croatia, Ukraine, Argentina and Chile when the end of Polish season collides with first imports of blueberries from the southern hemisphere. There is little competition in Poland because big growers buy fruit from smaller ones while assisting them in other things besides trading/marketing fruit, such as spreading best cultivation practices. In addition, growers either group themselves into cooperatives or into a couple of independent but cooperating growers exporting their fruit jointly while sharing cargospace on trucks, for example by using a 3rd party integrator/trader like Agro Trade. This concept of cooperation (growers working together and not separately) is driven by the will to stabilize prices and to keep them up on a high level. If they were trading independently, the prices would go down, due to heavy competition.

There are several co-operations and various events are being organized in the field of cultivation, marketing, innovation, and quality. For example, Konferencja Borowka (Blueberry Conference) is the largest conference on blueberries in the world. Here, both national and international knowledge is being shared.

Connection of the Netherlands and Poland
Due to EU subventions to Polish growers, the technological level in blueberry plantations in Poland has increased. In the last couple of years, they received these financial support schemes for building cold stores, sorting facilities, etc., many of which have Dutch advice and support. There is, therefore, a lot of contact with Dutch companies for the supply and multiplication of plants, quality training, and cultivation advice. Knowledge about horticulture, in general, is increasing in Poland. Growers, big and small, are innovative and optimistic about the future of blueberry horticulture.

We expect a good blueberry season this year. The trading and picking is going well so far, and the quality of the blueberries is also very good. When the Polish season finishes, they will continue trading blueberries from the southern hemisphere and I will be back in The Netherlands looking for a job, because by then I will have graduated.

Voor meer informatie:
lizalievens@live.nl
sandra@agrotrade-poland.pl

Publication date: 8/9/2017


 


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