Pfalzmarkt eG is staying the course in difficult times, showing that fruit and vegetable production in the Palatinate can be relied on. For several years now, there has been a decline in demand for lettuce, but this product will not disappear completely from German markets, says Pfalzmarkt CEO Hans-Jörg Friedrich. At the start of the new fresh vegetable season, Friedrich spoke with us about the importance of producer cooperatives, new products in the Pfalzmarkt portfolio, and current challenges in the industry, among other topics.
Board member Hans-Jörg Friedrich: "The organic share at Pfalzmarkt is between 3-4% and will not increase for the time being, as the conversion to organic production is currently financially difficult for some growers."
Difficult times for bunched vegetables
"Lettuce will maintain Its importance. However, it is no longer the mass product it was before, as pick-and-place as well as colorful lettuces have been sharing the market more for some time," Friedrich says.
However, there is definitely a risk that particularly labor-intensive bunched products, such as carrots, spring onions and radishes, could increasingly disappear from the market, he adds. "If we have to work with a minimum wage of 12.00 euros for these products, that won't be possible. The price of radishes, for example, would have to be raised so much that consumers would probably no longer want to buy them. Here, there is also the question of whether we could convince retailers to harvest these goods by machine and offer them for sale without foliage. Spring onions in turn, would have to be sold in bulk."
More frost-resistant kiwifruit
In addition to puntarelle and Bimi broccoli, the Palatine Market has also been dedicated to hydroponic cultivation, or the production of root lettuces, for which a greenhouse has also been available since last year. "The production of tricolor lettuces had to be readjusted somewhat in the expanded trial cultivation, as the green lettuces are more vigorous than the red lettuces in the tricolor group," says Friedrich.
But the growers' cooperative is also continuing to develop in the fruit sector: "With the rising temperatures, we will in future also turn our attention to the cultivation of kiwifruit, among other things, in the 'vegetable garden of Germany'. We are also working on varieties that are more frost-resistant in winter. Sales of the soybean plant edamame have also got off to a good start. For vegans in particular, this product is a good meat substitute."
Higher demand for greenhouses
Friedrich suspects that greenhouse cultivation will increase in Germany: "We hear and read that more and more greenhouses are being planned. Following the successful trial cultivation in the field of hydroponics, we have also been working on the planning of an expanded greenhouse concept for two years now. Geothermal locations in particular are being sought in this regard. Because the energy issue is the all-important thing at the moment."
In the new marketing hall of the Pfalzmarkt, he said, they will also switch to photovoltaics, which will ensure self-sufficiency and, accordingly, no longer require electricity from outside. "What is being talked about everywhere at the moment is agri-photovoltaics. But for this you would have to put up a kind of stand forest in the middle of the arable land, which is unlikely to catch on because it is simply too expensive. However, some fruit farmers are considering providing the agri-photovoltaic system via the fruit trees, which would also provide good hail protection through the system," says Friedrich. The only thing that is still being researched intensively, he says, is the extent to which shading the trees from above will affect the ripening of the apple and, above all, its coloration.
Importance of grower cooperatives
"Overall, producer cooperatives have a share of about 34% in Germany. This means that about a third of the products are distributed by producer cooperatives and the rest come from independent growers," says Friedrich. "As a producer cooperative, we can take various tasks off the producers' hands so that they can just take care of their production. The amount of documentation that has to be done these days, especially in the area of quality assurance, is enormous. The bundling function of cooperatives is particularly important nowadays."