Dutch tomato and cucumber growers cannot complain about current prices. However, bell pepper and eggplant growers still have plenty of catching up to do this season. Oxin Growers's commercial director, Ton van Dalen, is therefore raising the alarm about the impact of the increased costs. "If gas prices continue to hover around €1, something has to happen for bell pepper growers this summer. Otherwise, cultivation companies will run into liquidity problems," he begins.
"These days, there's much talk about rising food prices, including fruit and vegetables. But, grower prices don't reflect this, which means their huge cost increases aren't being compensated. Returns are under pressure, whereas store prices are high."
"I assume retailers don't benefit either when growers are paid below cost. Fortunately, grower prices have risen slightly in the last two weeks, but that's also much needed. Passing on the entire cost increase in the chain remains a difficult discussion. However, these costs must be balanced in the chain," says Ton.
"There's increasing awareness about this, though. But I don't know if it's happening fast enough. This year there's still a limited number of growers who left their greenhouses empty. With us, for example, it was less than five percent of the acreage. But it's tough to estimate what will happen next season. A Glastuinbouw Nederland survey shows that 40% of greenhouse vegetable growers will be in trouble if energy costs remain high. Much will depend on the remainder of the season's prices."
The tomato market seems to have dodged the bullet this season. "The season started well, and prices have held up nicely, especially compared to 2021, when up to week 17, TOVs cost €0.93; now they're €1.70. Loose tomato prices have been good too. They dropped for a while around Easter but have since recovered to an acceptable level. If this continues, tomato growers could have a reasonable to a good year," Ton continues.
"There is, however, far less lit tomato cultivation this year. The question is how this will play out towards the new season. Maybe it will be a true traditional Dutch tomato season. That will become clear in the coming months. Also, the ToBRFV virus no longer seems to be in the spotlight, but it's not vanished yet. Our breeding department is working hard on resistant varieties, but it'll be a year or two before sufficient seed is available. The market's generally very uncertain."
"Cucumber growers have had a good season thus far. All sizes have been selling for roughly €0.40. Many growers started later or went from three to two crops. Very few growers left their fields entirely empty," explains Van Dalen.
Where cucumber growers are getting unprecedentedly good prices, bell pepper growers are not. "The season started badly, mainly because Spanish growers thought the Dutch crop would begin later. That didn't happen. The nice weather made for quite high productions too. And the Spanish/Dutch overlap threw supply and demand out of balance."
"Prices have since recovered slightly to roughly €2 on average. If those hold, then things might not be so bad. But then demand must remain good during the summer. There's generally still plenty to be done in the bell pepper sector," Ton says. "Cultivation also has enough issues with diseases and pests, like the new aphid that's resistant to certain pesticides. The plants' roots are problematic too."
Last but not least, things are not running smoothly on the eggplant market either. "This season, too, got off to a dismal start in the Netherlands. Prices are picking up again to the 2020 level. But then this time of year was great. We don't know how things will progress. The growers have high hopes, but it always remains to be seen what happens. We can then see, in retrospect, how realistic the expectations were, " Ton concludes matter-of-factly.