Peter Horvath:

"Auctions are a good way to sell large volumes in a short time"

The clock is standing at 13 SEK (about EUR 1:30), but is falling fast. In five minutes, a few thousand crates of cucumbers are sold, and the market price for the day is set. The season is almost over. The shorter days herald the end of the season for Swedish growers. Then the calmer months begin at Odlarlaget, one of the three largest production organisations in the country. This wholesaler also has the country's only cucumber auction, where market prices are determined. 

Four traders at the cucumber auction. Large companies join the bid via the internet.

"We are expecting the first winter production of cucumbers in week 44," says Peter Horvath, Sales Manager at Odlarlaget. With more than 100 member growers, of which 34 are cucumber farmers, Odlarlaget represents about 45,000 tonnes of fruit and vegetables. The area of cucumbers that are brought to auction stands at 40 hectare. Tomatoes, the second product of the producers organisation (PO), stands at 12 hectare. "Tomatoes and cucumbers are our most important products," says Peter. "We have, however, noticed that more cucumbers are being cultivated, while tomato production is decreasing. It is being replaced by products such as strawberries."

Peter Horvath with Odlarlaget's top product: cucumbers.

Growers above the polar circle
In 1992 the old production organisation went bankrupt. A new cost-effective way to bring local products to market was needed. Opinions among the growers were, however, divided. Those who wanted to keep the auction system, were absorbed by Odlarlaget, while those who thought the way forward was fixed agreements, rejoined Syd Gront.

During the season, Peter starts the cucumber auction at precisely 15:00.

Swedish apples of the Ingrid Marie variety.

The growers who sell through Odlarlaget are spread far and wide across the country. "We have a grower who cultivates cabbage, cauliflower, lettuce, iceberg lettuce and carrots, above the polar circle", says Peter. There is also a herb farmer far to the north. Most growers are, however, to be found in Southern Sweden.

Most of the cucumbers are packed at Odlarlaget. Few growers have their own packaging machines.

If the season goes well, their is a good chance of export opportunities to Finland, the Baltic States, and the Czech Republic. "Last year was bad, but this year was even worse", says Peter. "We had the third bad year in a row." In 2014, 30 000 tonnes of cucumbers was produced; the year before it was 26 000 tonnes. "Not all of the growers are making money, and it is difficult to compete with the imported products." Most growers are unable to invest in greenhouse lighting for a winter crop. Since the summer days are so long, it benefits production in the summer months.

The packed cucumbers are sorted and placed in crates, ready for the auction.

Scholars and students form a large part of the workforce during harvesting in the summer. During school holidays, there are many youngsters who earn a bit on the side by helping with the harvest. It is important for growers to find personnel outside of the holiday period. "Nowadays, Poles do not have to work abroad so much anymore. Most farmers employ Romanians, Lithuanians, and Ukrainians."

In the afternoons customers come to collect their orders.

Swedish-grown sweetcorn.

The frost in May was disastrous

"We had frost in May which damaged the crops." There are only a few hundred growers in total in Sweden. Small growers often sell their products directly on the local market; the larger producers need PO's. The low prices for imported goods makes it difficult to compete. This can be seen clearly in the hard fruit segment. Galas are imported from France; Belgium and the Netherlands supply Conference pears, and even Poland exports to the Swedish market.

"Swedish growers start the season with the Discovery, followed by the Aroma and the Ingrid Marie. We try not to cultivate the same varieties as those that are imported", says Peter. "We do, however, have some Conferences, which we use for pollination. The cheap supply from Belgium makes it almost impossible to sell these. So we tell the growers: try to cultivate other varieties. Our local varieties also taste better", says Peter.

Swedish strawberries.

Despite the competition, Peter sees a good future for Swedish products. "There is room to grow. Other markets are experiencing problems and have to deal with high logistical costs", he says. Among other things, some governments are planning to introduce a toll fee, which could cause an increase in transportation costs.

Snack cucumbers from a Swedish greenhouse.

Peter begins the auction at three o'clock in the afternoons. In the auction room, there is a couch where buyer sit and wait for the auction to start. Four traders have made it to the auction, while bids are also made online. In a short time, about 50 tonnes of cucumbers are auctioned off. "It is a good way to sell a large volume in a short time", says Peter. Although the volumes are small by Dutch standards, this clock determines the daily market price in Sweden. At the end of this sales round, the average price was at about 9 SEK (EUR 0,90).

Peter thinks Swedish apples taste better.

More information:
Peter Horvath
T: +46 (0)42 499 01 12
M: +46 (0)707 82 82 10

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