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The increased energy costs have hit the winter production of cucumbers on the northern hemisphere hard. Many northern European cucumber growers have opted out of heating or lighting their cucumber crops this winter, including those in the Netherlands, Belgium, and the United Kingdom, causing gaps in domestic supply on these markets. The more southern European cucumber producing countries, such as Italy and Spain are quite the opposite, with warm weather at the start of the growing season pushing up volumes to unexpectedly high levels, with high prices allowing growers to cover some increased production costs. In South Africa, prices are also high, and with a good production this season so far, prospects are positive. The Chinese cucumber market is also in a positive situation, with the Chinese New year spurring on vegetable sales, whilst in the US and Mexico, the share of Mexican cucumber continues to grow.

The Netherlands: Gap in cucumber production due to energy costs
There has been little or no lighting turned on in Dutch and Belgian cucumber cultivation. This has caused a gap in local production in recent months. In recent years, on the contrary, growers, in cooperation with supermarket chains, had been working on solidifying local winter production. The acreage of cucumbers grown under lights had been rising visibly, but last winter and this winter have halted that development.

The result is that by the end of January, quite traditionally, the first cucumbers are back on the market, a few growers who dared to start even earlier aside. Prices were at high levels in recent months, but few growers really benefited from this.

In the coming period, more and more growers will quietly go into production, although the season start-up will be a bit slower than before all the energy woes.

2022 went into the books as a very good cucumber year. However, there was criticism of quality, particularly at the end of the season.

Using energy more sparingly in the greenhouse seemed to leave its mark. Next season should show whether growers have mastered growing more economically.

Several tomato growers have started growing (extra) cucumbers in recent years, and the same goes for this season. Problems with ToBRFV in tomato are to blame for this.

Belgium: Cucumber acreage on the rise as tomato growers switch
This week, the new cucumber season of traditional cultivation kicked off in Belgium. "The demand for cucumbers remains unabated. We notice that more and more consumers are opting for the healthy cucumber snack post-Covid," says a Belgian trader. "It is also resulting in good prices again at the moment because there is still a fairly limited supply. Belgian cucumbers are just coming up and Spanish supply has also been a bit disappointing in recent weeks due to the colder weather in Spain, which has reduced supply a bit. Moreover, the situation for exposed cultivation in Belgium is well known. Due to high energy costs, these volumes are now coming to the market a lot later than usual. However, the cucumber acreage does seem to be increasing, as we see tomato growers switching more and more to growing cucumbers, also because of virus control."

Germany: Varied cucumber prices on German market
The availability of predominantly Spanish regular cucumbers is diminishing. The demand could nevertheless be satisfied without major difficulties. Prices developed unevenly, but for the most part they were rather increasing than decreasing. Greek cucumbers rounded off the assortment on a small scale. In the case of mini cucumbers, Spanish and Turkish batches were most popular, with expensive Dutch lots completing the supply. Meanwhile the quotations did not show a clear line, reductions could be observed as well as rising valuations.

France: Prices should be similar to last year
Cucumbers have been valued well throughout the 2022 season, with a price increase of over 30% compared to previous years. Prices remained high throughout the campaign, and were able to cover the increase in production costs of producers. This increase in price is explained by a reduced supply from the beginning of the campaign, as many producers chose to plant later in the campaign to try to counter the increase in energy prices. This year's season should go well. Most plantings started in early January and should be in production by mid-February, with prices expected to be similar to last year. The national objective that producers wish to achieve is to cover the needs of the French market from April to the end of August.

UK: Energy and labour shortages delay UK cucumber production
Energy and labour issues are the main issues affecting cucumber production in the UK, especially in the Lea Valley.

Normally growers would be planting cucumbers in the greenhouses in early January, this year the majority will not plant until late February or early March, some will wait until April. The season will run until September.

According to an industry source the energy costs are too high to plant in January. “Last year growers were only using the boilers to heat the greenhouse every other day from May onwards to save on costs, but this meant less CO2 in the greenhouse which led to a drop in yields.”

Last year the cost of energy was between £6-8 per therm (approximately 29 kilowatt-hours), this year it is £1.70 and before the energy crisis it was just £0.40 per therm. Half of the UK’s growers didn’t plant last year.

The number of growers in the UK has been steadily falling and last year 10% of growers stopped. This has really impacted the area used to grow food and will seriously affect the country's food security. The UK is seeing more and more cucumber imports not only from Spain and Holland, but increasingly from Turkey, Morocco and Egypt. Produce coming from these countries takes a week by road.

Italy: Cucumber prices holding strong, aided by warm start to season
Sicilian cucumber prices are holding up well. "This year the climate helped," reported a small Sicilian producer. "The warm weather during the planting phase (in November) promoted fruit set. During the first harvest at 45 days, a period of relative cold encouraged sales. A price of €0.60/kg was reached, which even hit €1.30/kg'.

"Currently, prices have levelled off at 0.90-1.00 euro/kg and we can only hope that they will still hold up until the end of the campaign, which will come at the end of May."

According to GfK Consumer Panel data, cucumbers are bought by more than 40% of Italian households. They are purchased mainly by variable weight, by more than 10.2 million households, compared to less than 700,000 of the fixed weight. Organic cucumbers are purchased, mainly by variable weight, by more than 1.7 million households; households preferring non-organic cucumbers are more than 9.2 million. The purchase of cucumbers is particularly marked by seasonality: it goes from almost 6.2 million households in June, the most relevant month of a high season that starts in May and ends in September, to not even one million buying households between December and January.

Spain: Unexpectedly high supply of cucumbers, but demand even higher
The Spanish export cucumber campaign is progressing in Almería and Granada with very good results and it is expected to end a few weeks earlier than usual due to the advanced state of the crops. In fact, the unusual high temperatures up to the first half of January have accelerated ripening and increased production. Meanwhile, demand remains high. The supply of Andalusian cucumber largely dominates the shelves of large European retailers, with complementary limited quantities of Greek and Moroccan origin.

Despite the fact that, until now, it has been a month of January with more production than growers expected, the demand has been above supply, since the campaign began in autumn, which is bringing exceptional prices for this product most of the season. In fact, in week 2 prices rose by 7% and now remains at an average of around €1.20 per kilo in the main auctions.

Although the area has decreased slightly in Almería compared to the past financial year 2021/2022, according to a producer and exporter, it has remained stable in Granada. “We already started the campaign in autumn with a very clean transition with the productions from central and northern Europe. The Netherlands finished earlier due to the high temperatures. In addition, this season there has not been any overlap between Almería and Granada, so there has hardly been any peak in production”.

In the first fortnight of January, the volume sold has exceeded the figures of the previous campaign by 5-10%. “We anticipate that the export cucumber campaign will end in about a month and a half for us, between two and three weeks earlier, due to how advanced the crops are. Autumn has been very cloudy and the plants have been exhausted earlier, in addition to the fact that there has been more damage from aphids,” he points out.

South Africa: Positive season for South African cucumbers
Cucumber prices are still higher than usual at the moment, coming out of a good December period when prices were very high.

“Over December demand for cucumbers picks up very much and there wasn’t a lot available,” says a cucumber trader at the Tshwane municipal market.

Over Easter demand and the price are expected to pick up again, but, says a Johannesburg trader, it’s a fine line to balance how high the price can go “without killing demand” and how low prices can go to allow farmers to make money.

Northwest Province growers are supplying tunnel-grown cucumbers at the moment.

There is “just about nothing” on the Tshwane market, the trader remarks. They are selling an 8kg box of extra large cucumbers for around R100 (5.3 euros), R105 and R90 (4.8 euros) on an 8kg box of large cucumbers.

At the Johannesburg municipal market the average price per kg cucumbers in 8kg boxes is R8.85 (0.47 euro).

Producers in the Lowveld and Tzaneen can grow cucumbers without heating in winter, but they cannot grow the vegetable during summer because of their subtropical climate. Coal costs are high for growers in colder areas who produce in winter.

“I think cucumber farmers have had a good run,” says a cucumber trader at the Johannesburg municipal market.

China: Top sales week for cucumbers
This week the annual Spring Festival, Chinese New Year, is celebrated all across China. An important moment for many Chinese families to spend time together, after three years of Covid restrictions. Fruit and vegetable production and consumption traditional peak during this festive week.

Right now is the harvesting period for greenhouse vegetables, including cucumbers. At Donghua Vegetable Cooperative in Shouguang City, Shandong Province, Pang Dongzheng, the head of the cooperative, is leading the villagers to load vegetables into cars and sell them to various places. "The demand for vegetables during the Spring Festival has increased, so we are working overtime to pick and package them to ship." Overall vegetable wholesale prices have dropped 10% year on year compared to sales in the previous three years. Total cucumber production area has grown from 1.1 million hectares in 2010 to 1.3 million in 2020.

As the Spring Festival approaches, the Xinfadi market, which supplies more than 80% of Beijing's vegetables, is doing extremely well. During the Spring Festival, it will continue to stay open 24 hours a day, as is the Guangzhou fruit wholesale market.

North America: High prices dampen demand for cucumbers
Supplies of cucumber are tighter out of Mexico and Honduras due to lower plantings and adverse weather conditions. In Florida, late production, which sometimes trickles into January, was also affected by late 2022’s hurricanes.

As one shipper working in Mexico notes, its shade house cucumbers are coming from the northern region of Sonora. “We have enough supply to get us through the winter,” says the shipper, noting Sinaloa, Mexico is also currently in production. “However there’s less supply as a whole on cucumbers. We’re being affected by the weather from last year. There were colder temperatures at Christmas and then even right now, the cooler temperatures have stunted the growth.” Sizing is trending more towards smaller sizing rather than super or select sizing.

Greenhouse cucumber (also known as English or European cucumbers), while at a low point in the year for production, have also seen stronger than typical demand and pricing on smaller product. 

Yet, demand has been dampened somewhat by high pricing at both retail and foodservice, though the shipper working in Mexico says it’s also been steady. “The higher pricing is a reflection of inflation and less supply all at the same time. Some of these prices are going to become a norm, though they may come off a bit because of the supply,” they say.

At the same time, contract pricing, generally drawn up based on historical markets which are often at lower price points, has also driven up open market pricing.

Mexico: Cucumber exports to US continue to increase
Mexico is the 5th producer and 3rd exporter of cucumber worldwide. In 2022, around 18,400 hectares were planted in the country, in which more than one million tons were harvested, which were mostly sent to its main commercial client, the United States.

In fact, imports of cucumbers from Mexico by the US market experienced remarkable growth in recent decades, going from 689 million pounds in 2000 to 1.74 billion pounds in 2020, with a growth of approximately 250% during that period, in which in parallel the US production was declining.

In 2000, Mexico's imports were 37% less than US production, while in 2020 Mexico's imports were more than five times US production, accounting for about 80% of production. total cucumber imports, according to a report from the University of Florida.

And in 2022, “with weather, pests, input price surges, competing crops, and water availability issues affecting US production,” the share of imported fresh vegetables continued to rise, the USDA reports.

Specifically, shipments from Mexico increased 1% between January and October 2022, despite a 2% drop in the first quarter caused in part by the impacts of cold weather on growth and yield, and in particular imports. of cucumbers increased by 5%. Only in the first two weeks of January 2023, imports from Mexico amounted to 39.9 and 55.2 million pounds, respectively - close to 100 million pounds -, while imports from Canada did not reach 9.5 million pounds between the two weeks.

Next week: Global Market Overview Bananas!