Worldwide expansion of Polish apples is vital

In 2017, Poland should be able to export about 4 thousand tonnes of apples to China, which is as much as the annual exports to France. Ultimately, this figure may reach up to 80 thousand tonnes, as told to "Rzeczpospolita" by Michał Lachowicz, president of Appolonii, the association of apple producer organizations, which was the first entity to sign a contract to export apples from Poland to China.

According to Zbigniew Chołyk, president of LubApple, China is "a big, receptive market with a growing middle class. Apples are an expensive product there, which gives a chance for higher margins," he affirms.

LubApple's apples have already reached the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Recently, the company stepped up cooperation with Jordan. In January, the company may ship approximately 1 thousand tonnes of apples to non-European markets.

Polish growers are looking for new export markets, as since August 2014, the EU has been unable to export to Russia. Before the introduction of the embargo, Russia was purchasing almost every fifth apple produced in Poland.

"We have to seek new markets, because even if Russia lifted the ban, it would be difficult for us to rebuild our earlier position there," states Zbigniew Chołyk.

The worldwide expansion of Polish apples is all the more necessary given the European Commission's forecast for 2026, with apple production in the EU expected to be about one-tenth greater than in 2016. This growth will mainly be driven by Poland, the Union's leader in terms of production volume.

The exploration of non-EU markets has already yielded results in recent years. While in 2013 apples were exported to 55 countries, according to Eurostat, in 2015 this figure already stood at 81. The volumes sold outside the Old Continent are not yet large, with Egypt as the only non-EU market in the top ten export markets after the first three quarters of 2016 (in 10th place, according to the Ministry of Agriculture).

Credit Agricole Bank, Poland, estimates that in 2016, Polish apple exports could increase by more than 10 percent (although in 2015 they were approximately 40 percent lower than a year earlier). In any case, they still failed to find buyers for approximately 280 thousand tonnes, about 40 percent of the apples that went to Russia in 2013.

For now, the most notable increase in apple shipments since the closure of Russia has been achieved in Belarus. In the first nine months of 2016, purchases from this country grew by more than 80 percent compared to a year earlier.

"This significant increase in apple exports to Belarus, clearly above the levels recorded before the Russian embargo, suggests that they are then re-exported to Russia," explains Jakub Olipra, an economist at Credit Agricole Bank Poland.

Despite the increase of EU exports, Poland is still struggling with apple oversupply. The World Association of Apple and Pear Producers estimates that on 1 November 2016, the EU's stocks of apples amounted to 5.51 million tonnes and were almost 38 percent higher than a year earlier.

The effect of large stocks is low prices. In the period from July to November 2016, apples purchased by processing plants were 35 percent cheaper than a year earlier, according to estimates from the Ministry of Agriculture.

According to Witold Boguta, president of the National Association of Groups of Fruit and Vegetable Producers, "growers must themselves be well aware that, even if Russia lifted the embargo, it would be difficult to rebuild a strong position. It will be necessary to adapt the supply to the needs of demanding consumers in large cities. The country must aim to become stronger in Western Europe or reach more distant markets, e.g. China. To achieve this, producers in Poland must increase the acreage planted with the apple varieties that are popular in the global market, improve the fruit quality and build good brand reputations. It won't be easy, because they have a limited capacity for investment due to the low prices of the past three years."


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