The global cucumber market is a mixed bag at the moment, with some countries having had a difficult year. In the Netherlands, cucumber growers are wrapping up their traditional growing season, hoping for an extended run thanks to favorable weather conditions after a challenging year with prices trailing behind the five-year average. Meanwhile, Germany witnessed a dominance of domestic snake cucumbers and an increasing presence of Spanish offerings. Italy, on the other hand, shows a remarkable consistency in cucumber sales throughout the year, with long cucumbers gaining popularity for their milder taste.

In South Africa, cucumber growers grapple with power cuts and rising production costs, which cast shadows over the future of the industry. Finally, North America paints a different picture, with a robust cucumber market emerging, driven by tightening supplies in the field and greenhouse production. As autumn sets in, the focus shifts to Mexico's impending cucumber season, while greenhouse cucumber production continues to thrive, even as Canadian temperatures drop.

The Netherlands: Low prices for cucumbers
The traditional growing season is coming to an end. For early October, it is relatively warm with temperatures still above 20 degrees Celsius next weekend. Important is also light. Wet autumn weather remains out for now, so that makes growers with a traditional crop expect to continue for a relatively long time. After two years with the inevitable CABY virus problems, aphid pressure in cucumber was not too bad this year.

Cucumber growers look back on a season in which prices lagged far behind the five-year average, especially in spring, and the 2022 price season. It was only in July that prices found their way up. Cucumber yielded better prices during the summer holiday period, but by the end of August the price still dropped again.

This spring, people looked hard for causes for the low prices. Was it due to a growth in acreage, partly due to people switching from, for instance, tomato cultivation plagued by virus pressure, was it a lack of sun and therefore lagging consumption or were mediocre prices actually the 'fault' of the market? The organic cucumber market also suffered from mediocre pricing.

In recent years, cucumber cultivation under lights had been on the rise. The energy crisis put a brake on this. In tomato, the market is counting on a return of about half of the lit area. In cucumber cultivation, lighting is again an option, provided there is certainty about sales and prices. For supermarkets, including those who want to distinguish themselves with local product, it is important that the price difference between cucumbers grown under lights and imports is contained.

As in tomatoes, the investment in full-LED lighting helps growers make the move back to a winter crop anyway. Differences between growers, and their capabilities, are still large, though. A big concern is announced tax plans. They will make gas more expensive for greenhouse horticulture, impose an extra tax on the use of CHP for electricity generation and also impose a levy on CO2 emissions.

Diversification in cucumber is also a topic. Breeding companies offer opportunities with snack cucumbers, mini or midi cucumbers and now also other specialties such as Asian cucumbers. However, the acreage is still limited.

Germany: Domestic cucumbers dominated over imported ones
Domestic snake cucumbers dominated over Dutch and Belgian ones, according to a federal agency. Spanish offerings gained in importance and now appeared on almost all markets. However, their quality was not consistently convincing. Business was generally quiet. Placements have improved on various occasions. A slightly limited supply in connection with this led to rising quotations in some places. There was also slight demand for mini cucumbers. They originated from the Netherlands and the domestic market. Valuations did not change significantly.

Italy: Cucumber sales unaffected by seasonality
The trend for cucumbers is almost constant throughout the year. A wholesaler in northern Italy says that sales are not greatly affected by seasonality. More cucumbers are sold in summer and a little less in winter, but there are no big differences. Cucumbers come in two categories: the long ones and the traditional, shorter ones. Long cucumbers have a higher wholesale price and, if of good quality, are sold between 2.50 and 3 €/kg during this period. The wholesaler admits that these are very high prices, but this is the current trend, common to all vegetables. Short cucumbers, on the other hand, have a slightly lower price, around 1.50 to 2.30 €/kg.

Long cucumbers are becoming increasingly popular because they have a less intense flavour and are easier to digest. The wholesaler buys cucumbers in the Verona area from February, then moves to Romagna and buys here until October. After that, production comes from the south of Italy, so in the winter months the wholesaler buys in Sicily. At this time, transport costs are high, partly because of the high price of fuel.

France: market is currently stable as the end of the campaign approaches
At the beginning of September 2023, national cucumber production in 2023 is estimated at 172,000 tonnes, up 3% year-on-year, but down 4% on the 2018-2022 average. The national area planted to cucumbers in 2023 would be 1,000 ha, down 6% year-on-year, but stable compared with the 2018-2022 average. On the market, the balance between supply and demand is precarious, due in particular to the changeable weather in northern France, which does not encourage consumption, and prices are pulled down in August to help sell off production.

Prices were then revised downwards. In August, consumption varies from week to week, depending on weather conditions, and sales promotions help to keep the market moving. Prices fall sharply: they are 37% below the August 2022 level and 19% below the August 2018-2022 average. From January to July 2023, imports (40,700 tonnes) fell by 2% and exports (7,400 tonnes) rose by 5%. As a result, the trade deficit improved by 4% compared to the same period in the previous campaign. The market is currently stable as the end of the campaign approaches.

Spain: Prices so low that growers second class product

After the prices of Spanish Almería-type cucumbers reached minimum levels at the end of September, they have experienced a rise in the last week. As an operator explained, “Almería cucumber production had already begun in the province, but Holland was still in its last days of the campaign; and because it was the end of the season, the quality was not the best and prices were low which influenced the prices in Almería. This had been combined with the good weather here, which has been favouring production, generating an excess of supply in the market.”

The situation was such that the Almeria sector determined that if prices continued like this, as of October 1, when the combined market share of Andalusia in Germany, France, Spain, England and Holland exceeded 50%, the ‘extension of the rule’ that prevents the marketing of the second categories would be activated.

At auctions, the Almería cucumber reached an average, although weighted price of 0.26 euros per kilo. “It is true that when prices are so low, farmers do not even bring the second categories that may have even lower prices, as is the case at the moment, and now only first and extra categories are being sold, so the extension of the rule would have relative effectiveness,” the operator reflected.

South Africa: Power cuts and production costs hit cucumber growers hard
South Africa’s chronic power cuts are sinking farmers and on the fresh produce markets, agents say they can see that arriving volumes are declining.

According to a market agent in Gauteng, they sell a 7kg box of large cucumbers for R165 (8.55 euros) and a 6kg box of medium cucumbers for R135 (7 euros). The Johannesburg fresh produce market’s daily prices shows it as R15.57/kg (0.8 euro/kg) for 8kg boxes of cucumbers.

“Cucumber prices should come down a little bit over the next couple of weeks. Volumes should increase but it all depends on what farmers managed to plant. In winter, cucumbers need to be heated but input costs have gone up so much. In summer anyone can plant cucumbers.”

Vegetable volumes (not just cucumbers but potatoes, onions, carrots, cabbages, lettuce and so forth) on the market are on a decline because of rising input costs like fuel, fertilizers and chemicals, loadshedding (power cuts) and the costs of running diesel generators to compensate, as well as water shortages.

The markets are feeling emptier, the agent remarks. “There used to be small guys who’d send three, four, five hundred boxes of cucumbers a day, or every second or third day, who have just closed doors. The input costs just became too much. We’re gonna face tough time in this country,” he adds.

North America: Strong cucumber market for field and greenhouse product
For field cucumbers, the market is strengthening given supplies often tighten in late September to early October. As fall arrives, local acreages start disappearing, though the Southeast continues with production.

Thus, this is the time of year when buyers begin thinking about production in Mexico which should begin in early November out of Sinaloa and Sonora. However, since the tropical storm that hit Baja earlier this year, there hasn’t been rain in northwest Mexico meaning water could be an issue.

In all, cucumber markets are going to be very active. Fairly soon, there will be $20 cucumber pricing, especially on Super Selects that will jump to the mid $20s.

In greenhouse cucumbers, while supply is normal, demand is strong causing a rise in prices in long English and mini seedless cucumbers.

Overall production continues to grow for greenhouse cucumbers, including in Canada where temperatures are cooling in key growing regions such as Ontario. With shorter days and less sunlight ahead, lit Canadian winter production begins in November.

Next week: Global Market Overview Pineapples!