This year's celeriac yield is significantly lower than other years, says Luc Berden. Berden has been exclusively growing celeriac for many years now. He supplies his own product year-round. "We have never experienced a year like this. In the south-east of the Netherlands, no more significant rain has fallen since the beginning of June. Soil that is not being irrigated is bone-dry."
Berden is, therefore, not surprised by the shortage. "Actually, it has been clear from August", he says. Berden believes that it is in the interest of both the grower and the client to provide for shortages in time. "If you do not acknowledge the shortage, you will not get decent prices. You also put buyers continuity at risk. No-one benefits from this. You are just postponing the inevitable. The more we sell now, the less there will be left over. There is no more."
Besides the shortage, there is also a risk of encountering problems with quality. Bulbs that have stood still for too long can develop internal issues. Spider mite damage was also a major problem for the celeriac this year. "When the weather is hot, there are a lot of these spiders and the mites have free rein. They affect the leaves, causing the tuber to stop growing", he explains.
"Farmers then have to watch their crops slowly die as there is no way to fight these spiders. Entire plots are destroyed while in other countries and crops pesticides for these mites are available." Since there are so few celeriac with nice leaves available, the demand for bulbs with any green is higher than in other years.
In order to keep the whole areal wet, Berden has been using all their rigs to irrigate continuously since the start of June. "In fact, from the end of May, we have had to 'bottle-feed' all our plants. There has been no rain. We irrigated some plots on a weekly basis, others less. This depended on the type of soil and need." Berden says the irrigation costs for farmers has been enormous this year. "Machine costs, maintenance, repairs, and fuel. These extra costs quickly reach EUR1.500 to 2.000 per hectare”.
Despite the irrigation, yields everywhere are still significantly lower. Berden explains how this is possible. "Irrigation is, of course, useful to prevent dehydration. This is, however, like using a bandage on a broken leg. It does help but you cannot force plants to grow. Celeriac is not a tropical crop. When the temperature reaches above 30 degrees, they stop growing entirely. This year, cultivation was at a standstill for months. We cannot make up for this growth; the season is over."
With celeriac, yield losses are expected to be about 40%. This is also the case with carrots and onions. "All in all, we are, therefore, talking about lower yields, lower quality, and extra costs. These shortages will be reflected in the prices."
In the Netherlands' neighboring countries, the governments are supporting farmers who have been affected by the dry, hot weather. In the Netherlands there is hardly any question of this, according to Berden. “The EU has pledged support for all their member countries. Almost all of them are all making use of this. The countries also complement this with national support. The Netherlands is limiting their support to an advance on some premiums. They also give the farmers the possibility to use manure for two weeks longer. This does not help vegetable growers", he says.
Berden would prefer there be no support. "Our current system creates an unequal playing field and false competition. Those who have spent the most to irrigate, get nothing. Those who did nothing, get support. In fact, the government is implying that is would be better to just stay in bed."
Berden foresees a severe shortage. “I have spoken to farmers in the Netherlands, England, Germany, Belgium, Poland, and the Czech Republic. They all say the same thing. The impact of the hot, dry weather is greater than expected. There has been considerably less growth. There are many plots that have so little remaining that they cannot even be harvested. Everything that can be, is being harvested. The question is how well they will store", he says.
Does Berden expect consumers to find empty shelves? "No, that is why it is important to provide for shortages." Berden has enough stock to be able to continue supplying their clients. "We expanded our areal this year. This compensated for the lower yields. We have taken good care of the plants. We also remain in fruitful discussion with our buyers in order to ensure continuity. Quality remains the most important factor."
Berden is affiliated with ZON Fruit & Vegetables. “ZON supplies fresh fruit and vegetables to Jan Linders, a Dutch supermarket chain. Our celeriac has been on their shelves for more than seven years now. Even in a year like this one, it works perfectly when there is good consultation. We cultivate and reserve product especially for them. Jan Linders appreciates this long-term sustainable relationship. We ensure the continued supply of fresh, healthy tubers which are local and sustainable. Jan Linders' celeriac sales are unprecedented. We have just completed a very successful sales week, with no empty shelves", concludes Berden.
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