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Fruchtwelt Bodensee 2023

Panel discussion: "Between system relevance and cost explosion - fruit growing in uncertain times"

At the Fruchtwelt Bodensee trade fair, a panel discussion was held on the topic of "Between system relevance and cost explosion - fruit growing in uncertain times". It was a discussion between State Secretary Sabine Kurtz from the Baden-Württemberg Ministry of Food, Rural Areas and Consumer Protection, the Chairman of Obstregion Bodensee, Thomas Heilig, the Managing Director of Obstgroßmarkt Markdorf and Interim Managing Director of Obst vom Bodensee Vertriebsgesellschaft Nico Grundler, and Anthony Lee, the spokesman for Landwirtschaft verbindet Deutschland e.V. (Agriculture connects Germany). Manfred Ehrle was the moderator.

Closer cooperation along the value chain
According to Heilig, food retailers are responsible for about 85 percent of apple sales in Germany. He is therefore in favor of closer cooperation between growers, marketers and retailers, but would also like to see better cooperation from food retailers. As a positive example, he cited a communication model in Switzerland in which retailers, cooperatives and producers meet every eight weeks to discuss the market situation. Furthermore, he advocated transparent communication overall: "The market must know what is left for the farmer in the end." 

Existential difficulties in the industry
Lee claims that retailers have earned tons of money during "Corona." Traditional farms had to stop working while retailers enriched themselves, he said. "Retail gives us just enough to keep us from croaking. It keeps us on the needle, like a dealer." In this regard, he also criticized politics, which he said could intervene more strongly in energy prices. Also, he doubts whether the VAT reduction will help the farmers as much as retailers. Nevertheless, he reckoned that things should pick up again in the next two to three years. 

However, Grundler disagreed: "If it were really just about pure profit, only Polish apples would be found on the shelves. But that is not the case. Our customers prefer our products, but of course only at prices in line with the market." The problem, he says, is rather that you need a competitive product that can be produced and is in the store at a reasonable price. In addition, the entire value chain up to the producer would have to be paid fairly. "Retailers have to fight for every customer as well." 

Distortion of competition through politics?
Kurtz noted that especially the direct marketing, organic and weekly markets had to deal with existential difficulties. However, politics cannot and should not intervene directly in the market. "Politics is responsible with economics only for the basic conditions. We do not intervene in market events themselves. Supply and demand still determine the price." Politics does exert influence, Heilig said, in the form of the minimum wage regulation or even the non-approval of crop protection products. "That is a distortion of competition. But it is still important to keep open borders and the free market.

Not only do customers lack knowledge about what actually reaches the producers, they also no longer have a feel for the goods, he said. "The only way to solve the problem is through communication." Lee also said it's important to convince trading partners and customers that things are getting better. But also communicating to consumers what would be lost if farmers had to quit en masse. Ranking through education. "We at LaWi provide the largest labor force. Globally, our agriculture is second to none." He said policymakers need to pay tremendous attention, especially when it comes to crop protection. In this context, Lee spoke of how the abandonment of crop protection products had led to significant crop losses, which had plunged Sri Lanka into crisis. "If the farmer dies, the village dies." Kurtz therefore favors promoting quality-of-origin labels and the organic label more strongly and campaigns such as "Von Daheim," etc., or school fruit programs at Lake Constance.  

Ehrle questions whether the media would not have a duty to better convey these problems. Lee thinks that everyone has that duty. At the same time, the former police officer emphasizes that everyone has a duty. "The fourth estate, of course, do their part. We've had framing of agriculture in recent years that is unparalleled. Often the untruth is deliberately told. And if you vote Green, you don't necessarily always get Green policies." 

Lee thinks policymakers should be more vehement in insisting on local quality standards when it comes to food imports from abroad. "We can't be importing organic apples from New Zealand, for example, which makes no sense, especially from an environmental perspective." The food retail industry as a whole should make a clearer commitment to regional goods, he said. Minister Kurtz responded that these issues are already covered by the Supply Chain Act. "However, we may be discussing this at a level where we lack expertise," she states.  

Multi-layered problems
Rainer Wielatt, managing director of Salem-Frucht and a colleague of Grundler saw a multi-layered problem here, which began with the sanctions since Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014. The German fruit industry, he said, had sold significant volumes to Russia, which were then massively restricted. Since Poland annually five million and have likewise lost the Russian market, which is now marketed more in Europe. We are actually struggling with several issues to place goods, opportunities are more limited than six to eight years ago. 

Furthermore, persistent poor qualities in shelf space would limit marketing. "We need to establish core quality management, which will also reduce quantities. Nothing will be thrown away either, but sent for recycling. We have to be aware of the opportunity in the crisis and take advantage of it. But it may also be necessary to adjust varieties and reduce volumes on the market through unpopular measures." 

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