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"Relatively good at protecting against weather conditions"

Belgian cherry season officially kicks off at BelOrta

On June 11, BelOrta, in collaboration with Aldi, officially kicked off the Belgian cherry season. The first cherries were supplied by grower Benny Herbots from Zoutleeuw, after which they were purchased by Aldi Belgium for €5,000. BelOrta then doubled this amount, allowing for a donation of €10,000 to charity. This season, the honor went to VZW Vincentius Limburg. "With the kickoff, consumers can now expect to find cherries on the shelves for the next two months," Glenn Sebregts of BelOrta explained.

Kris Jans (BelOrta), Maksim Van Herck (Aldi), Benny Herbots and the delegation from VZW Vincentius Limburg, including Jean-Marie Ramaekers

"One of the few true seasonal products," Glenn said at Benny's plot, as a rare ray of sunshine peeked through. The opening had to be rescheduled due to challenging weather conditions, but on Tuesday, the sun made an appearance for the season's opening. "Like asparagus, cherries are available for a very short period, so enjoy them while you can. Before you know it, they're gone."

A beautiful moment for the official start of the season, eagerly anticipated by both traders and consumers. However, it is indeed a season filled with challenges, as grower Benny Herbots, who also cultivates apples and pears, explained. "Growing is not the same as it used to be. Weather extremes have significantly increased, making it increasingly challenging. Last year was bone dry, and now it just keeps raining. It demands a lot from you as a grower. Especially when there's a push to reduce crop protection, but we simply need it to achieve normal harvests. The government is imposing stricter standards, and often, you see that supermarkets want to go even lower. But there's a limit, and we're very close to it. You see it in the farmers' protests. Growers are nearly drowning, but it seems the message is getting across. With recent changes, the government seems to recognize the necessity."

Glenn Sebregts opened the day with a few words about the new season.

Challenging but promising
"However, this season is not easy," Benny continued. "Quantitatively, it's not much for many, but when I started with cherries, I decided to select the best plots for this purpose. Therefore, it looks promising in terms of quality. The early varieties did suffer from the excessive moisture, but overall, we expect a good season." Glenn acknowledges the issues, but notes that there are still beautiful volumes to work with. "This is partly thanks to the covers in a large part of our orchards, which protected the harvest from the challenging weather conditions this spring, such as frost, hail, and lots of rain."

Grower Benny Herbots discussed the challenges in cherry cultivation.

Kris Jans from BelOrta agrees. "Potentially, we have a total harvest of 6 million kilos, but I expect that we will be able to offer about 3 million kilos from 160 growers this season. It seemed to be a very early harvest due to the early bloom, but the cold and rain caused some headaches. It has ultimately delayed the season a bit, but you see it here. The leaves on the trees are beautifully green, and ultimately, we have good volumes of strong quality to work with. Moreover, there is also a lot of demand. It's a seasonal product, always enthusiastically received, and that's what we're seeing now. In Belgian shelves, but also, for example, France and the Netherlands are important markets for us. In addition, there is a lot of export to Spain when the quality of local product decreases. There is competition from Greece, Turkey, and recently Moldova, but I think we can still distinguish ourselves in quality."

Aldi focuses on local
VZW Vincentius Limburg thus received the check. The association is dedicated to helping people in poverty through food aid and social support, among other things. "We want to create opportunities to turn chances around," Jean-Marie Ramaekers of Vincentius Limburg said. "With this donation, we can take another step forward, for which, of course, a double thank you to BelOrta and Aldi."

The first crate this season was purchased by Aldi, with Maksim Van Herck, Category Manager Fruits & Vegetables of the supermarket chain, emphasizing the importance of local product. "We are very pleased to bring the first Belgian cherries into our stores and at the same time support a local good cause. We have a long cooperation with the Food Bank and, by extension, VZW Vincentius Limburg. It's therefore great that we can hand over such a nice amount to such a good cause for underprivileged youth."

Maksim points out that cherries are becoming an increasingly popular product among Aldi's customers. "Belgian cherries are a big success with our customers and their popularity is increasing year by year. We attach great importance to fresh products from our own soil and wherever possible, we always try to go for the local aspect. You also see that customer awareness is growing and we want to meet this need. Moreover, it obviously has many benefits in terms of sustainability. We are therefore intensifying our collaborations with Belgian growers and cooperatives to offer as large an assortment of local vegetables and fruits as possible. An example of this is the Belgian mini-watermelon, which will come again in July and which we will offer nationally for the first time. We started this a few years ago and the convenience and size proved to be a great success among consumers, so we will expand this step by step."

No panic for pears
Finally, Kris from BelOrta comments on the situation with pears. There has been a lot written about problems with the pseudomonas bacteria in the new harvest, but according to Kris, it's not as bleak as it's made out to be. "Of course, there are challenges, but sometimes I read stories that there wouldn't be a single pear left on the tree. There might be less coming, but I think that if the weather cooperates in the coming months, we can achieve an acceptable harvest with qualitatively good pears. Moreover, the European expectations are not such that we couldn't bring them to market. I think we should wait before everyone panics," he says.

For more information:
Mechelsesteenweg 120
B-2860 Sint-Katelijne-Waver, Belgium
Tel.: +32 (0)15 55 11 11
[email protected]

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