"Celeriac is scarce right now," says Luc Berden of Tuinbouwbedrijf Berden BV in Venlo. Berden is specialised in celeriac and supplies his own home grown celeriac all year round. Berden BV grows celeriac in the Netherlands, Germany and Spain. "2018 was a difficult season. Due to the dry weather the yield everywhere were smaller, there is a lot less supply throughout Europe than normal, and good celeriac is scarce."
Left: the roots in storage; right, Luc in Spain
The storage life of the celeriac has also been affected by the heat in 2018. "A crop that grows gradually stores better than a crop that was stopped by heat or grew on impulse due to heavy rain."
Increasing demand and rising prices
The celeriac prices are good, but according to Berden not everything that glitters is gold. "The prices have been higher in recent months, but the difference was too small to cover the lower yield and cost of irrigation. Low budget customers also drop out when the prices are too high. Often, it's better for everyone if the prices are average and the trade continues calmly. In the end it's about what is left over in terms of profit."
The demand for celeriac has increased greatly over the last few weeks, and the prices are rising to an above average level. "Celeriac of good quality from storage are bringing a good price, there is less demand for less quality for now. There's a bad root for every good one." The new harvest is still a while away, as it's only June. Berden still has a limited store of celeriac. "The quality of this last group is great, but they are slightly smaller than normal."
Berden expects to be able to supply the old harvest until the end of June, after which the stores will be empty. "This means we will be out over a month earlier than usual. I understand this is the case across the board."
Because the shortage was already apparent in November, Berden planted Spanish celeriac again this year. "We did this for years but the cost price was realistically too high. Due to the expensive transportation this cultivation can't compete with the Dutch storage celeriace, even if it is fresh product. This year is an exception."
First Dutch harvest
Is growing earlier in the Netherlands not an option? "No," replies Berden, "we're already pushing the limits. It's often still too cold and wet in March, and the risks are high, you can completely lose a harvest." Despite this, Berden's early harvest in the Netherlands is well ahead of schedule at the moment.
"In principle, we could start the new Dutch harvest next week, the plants are a good size. It would be a small supply, but it is a first for the set customers who want this."
Three seasons of celeriac
Berden will be supply celeriac from three different season over the coming weeks. Celeriac without leaves from storage, new crops (with or) without leaves freshly harvested from Spain and new celeriac with leaves from Dutch soil. "This is unique, and there's something for everyone!" laughs Berden. "The storage roots are the biggest, the Spanish ones are fresh as can be, and the fresh Dutch harvest is exclusively sold with foliage."
Berden expects the availability to remain limited for now and to hardly meet the demand. "We can't force growth, we are dependent on nature. The structural shortage due to the previous season can't be helped with just a few plots of early harvest, this will undoubtedly continue into the early season." Berden is positive about the new season, but doesn't want to get ahead of himself. "Even if the market is favourable, the cultivation remain expensive and risky. You can count yourself rich beforehand, but it's better not to count your chickens until they've hatched."
"The early season pressed our face into the facts. The dry weather last year left its marks on the fields and the market." The bad weather and storms in recent weeks concern Berden. "This is an increasingly common tendency. A hail storm, heavy rain, but also increasing animal or untreatable pest damage can spoil the harvest or completely destroy a cultivation. My grandpa used to be able to look at the sky and see rain, we check the weather forecast, but the results are the same."
Berden always remain in contact with the customer. The sales of celeriac is done through the auction daily through ZON Fruit & Vegetables. "We mainly work with set customers who know the product. They understand when the bulbs are slightly smaller, and pay a fair price. We do our best to bridge the shortage with our produce from Spain and supply them the first new celeriac of the season. Together we ensure that the best product is in the right place at the right time!"
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