The Belgian organic apple market seems to be recovering slightly. "Last year was very difficult, but this year's prospects are considerably better. The harvest looks good," begins organic grower Hugo Jacobs of Jacobs Fruit.
This Belgian cultivation company grows organic apples, pears, and cherries on about 11 hectares. Hugo is about to start with the new apples. "Regarding yields, I don't expect to harvest much less than last year. However, the apples are a little smaller. We started a bit later, and it was a cold spring, so their growth has lagged somewhat. But that's not necessarily a problem."
According to Hugo, their quality is good, too. "We genuinely don't have anything to complain about. There isn't much disease or damage. The scorching weeks in late August and early September caused some sun damage, but the season generally looks fine. Hopefully, it will go a bit better than last year," he says.
Gunther De Vadder of the BFV - from October 1, BelOrta - admits that organic apples' overall picture is slightly less rosy. "Hugo has little to no problems, but the Jonagold variants have quite a bit of scab pressure, resulting in significantly more going to the industry. Most of those were pre-bought," he says.
"That means, though, that we won't be able to stretch the season until the end of June. In terms of volume, it's a normal year, whereas last year was extreme. That makes for much better prices, but that also means we won't have organic apples until the end of the season, I'm afraid."
"First Qtee® to extend season"
Hugo foresees few problems with pears, too. "We have slightly fewer of them than usual, but they taste fantastic, so sales won't be a problem at all," the passionate organic farmer says.
"Belgians far prefer local organic produce. The boost organic got during the pandemic has subsided somewhat, but the market remains very stable. Convinced organic buyers keep choosing organic, and occasionally, other consumers decide to switch. There's certainly no decline."
Things are, in fact, looking so good that, with pears too, extending the season will be a major challenge, adds Gunther. "Just before harvesting began, 200 tons were hedged, so we're now at about 3,200 tons of Conference pear. That's not enough to keep delivering all year. I reckon we'll be done by late March, including switching," he explains.
"Also, pears are selling like hotcakes. If I had 7,000 tons of pears tomorrow, I could sell those too." As with conventional pears, climatic problems mean less competition from southern Europe this season than in other years. "In Italy, they're at ten percent from last year, so markets they normally supply must now consider other sources. Some are, thus, starting much later to get through the season," says Gunther.
He, too, is trying to find a solution to that. "It's a strange situation. Conference prices are quite high and are only going to rise. But that means they'll run out. We have more than enough Qtee®, so I advised everyone to load them up until mid-November and then start Conference to extend the season."
"That's because Qtee® prices are almost the same as Conference. But, a couple of independent growers will give in and market Conference. Then the rest follow, and all's lost. I'm pushing for Qtee® and trying to hold Conference back, but for now, people seem to be focusing on Conference," Gunther concludes.