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Good season expected for Hungarian walnut producers

In terms of quantity and quality, a good season is expected for Hungarian walnuts. Ferenc Apáti, Vice President of the Hungarian Vegetable and Fruit Interprofessional Association and Product Council (FruitVeb), told Hungarian Times that "spring frosts were only recorded in a few areas, so they did not cause big losses nationwide. The season has only recently come to an end and the total production volume has not yet been reported, but according to preliminary estimates, it should be similar to last year's, and in fact, there might have been increases in some areas."

According to the expert, the quality has also been good, mostly due to the drier weather, which has kept bacterial and fungal diseases in check, consequently reducing producer expenditure in protection products. Also, with the exception of one or two regions, there has been adequate rainfall, so product sizes have been above average. However, the dreaded foe of walnut producers, the diurnal drill fly, which appeared in the country a few years ago, has made things a bit more difficult for the growers. According to Ferenc Apáti, plantations where producers regularly use pesticide treatments against other pests can effectively keep walnuts safe. The problem is with so-called extensive plantations, where the crops are not treated.

In an average year, between 5,000 and 6,000 tonnes of walnuts are produced in the country. Since production far exceeds domestic demand, about two-thirds of that volume is exported abroad. In recent years, Hungary's most important export partner has been Germany, which has been absorbing 30-40 percent of the total Hungarian production. However, two years ago, German exports stalled and growers started to lose ground in this very important market. According to Ferenc Apáti, exports to Germany have dropped by half. Consequently, traders have been looking for new destinations for the Hungarian production, including the Italian, Turkish and Romanian markets. In any case, Ferenc Apáti says that it is not unthinkable to regain the confidence of the Germans again.

There is a crisis of confidence behind this market loss. In 2014, it was the first time that complaints about quality problems came from Germany. Then, in 2015, one of the largest German chain stores removed the Hungarian nuts from its range due to issues with mould. "There are many unprotected plantations. If the trader does not pay attention to the goods they buy and deliver abroad, 10 to 20 percent of the sales volume may be affected by mould or bacteria," said Ferenc Apáti.

The Vice President of FruitVeb said that "in order to restore customer confidence, we would need to enforce very strict quality controls that would guarantee that poor quality crops cannot be shipped overseas." He also highlighted the need to build a tracking system, and said that producers also have the task of raising the technological level to a higher level and caring more for their crops, as no high quality walnuts can be produced on neglected plantations.

Although the price of walnuts is steadily high, due to the market loss in Germany, the value of the crop has fallen slightly in the last two years. According to Ferenc Apáti, as long as the situation is not resolved, producers can expect stagnation at most. A higher price increase is unlikely in the long term, as Australian and American nuts are also very strong competitors on the European market.


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