It is not just the current corona crisis that is proving challenging for fruit growers in Europe. They are facing another issue - night frost. Temperatures have plummeted over the past few nights. Cold nights are also being forecast for the rest of the week. Some Belgian fruit farmers take stock after the first reports of damage start trickling in.
"On Sunday afternoon, we visited our plots. We saw quite a lot of frozen blossoms on the pear trees. Fortunately, we can counteract that. But, things do not look so good for our apples," says David Bamps of Vergro. "Some sites have 20 - 70% damage, depending on their location and the variety. We will have to anxiously have to wait and see what happens. We are expecting more frost."
This company's apple and pear exports are currently in dire straits too. That is due to the corona crisis. "The coronavirus hit Italy a few weeks ago. Then, a few orders were canceled. The same thing happened once the virus struck Belgium and Spain. Then England and India went into lockdown last week. There too, the orders decreased," says Geert Schoofs, also from Vergro. "Luckily, the situation is quickly correcting itself. This virus does, however, have negative effects on exports. It is certainly not easy, and the prospects are uncertain."
"More frost is being forecast. So, it is difficult to take stock now already. This year, we have noticed that irrigation did not work as well as in other years. This is thanks to the wind. "Cherry growers use braziers to combat the cold," says Kris Wouters of Woutersfruit.
"They were also affected by the wind. The heat from the fires did not remain in the orchards. It is still hard to estimate how much damage has been done. I expect a lot of damage with the Jonagold apples. Many plots are having an alternate year, which means the trees have fewer blossoms. These are also not as strong, so I fear there will be a lot of damage. But it is far too early to draw any conclusions."
"Our apple and pear exports are proceeding at the moment. But it is very challenging. There are, fortunately, not that many pears anymore. I, therefore, think things will turn out fine. That is, if exports keep going smoothly. In contrast, the exports to far-off destinations are very troublesome. It is also not clear how the demand will develop in the coming period. All we can do is wait and see what happens," says Kris.
"If we look at the blossoms, we can see that there is a reasonable amount of damage done to the Jonagold and Boskoop apples. The Conference pears have also suffered, but we can still save those," says Stephan Wolfcarius of Wolfcarius Fruit.
The farm is in the Belgian village of Markegem. "We had a big harvest last year. Due to this, the flower buds are a little less robust. They are, therefore, extra sensitive to frost. Yet, we do not see much damage high up in the trees. We have to hope we get good weather when the trees bloom. The remaining fruit will then grow well."
Stephan's brother, Yves, does sales for the company. He has mixed emotions about the corona crisis. "Domestic sales are going very well. Sometimes, certain buyers even take double their usual order. On the other hand, the market vendors have fallen away. Exports are also becoming tougher, and the future looks very unclear."
"One does not make up for the other. Class II pears going to France are having a hard time. There are slightly fewer orders from there. But, for the rest, it is not so bad. We can be relatively satisfied with the situation. We do, however, hope it will be over soon," concludes Yves.