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Florent Geerdens on the latest developments in the top fruit sector:

“We should deviate from classic top fruit strains”

The top fruit sector has had some tough years, and, looking at developments as they are now, it will not become any easier in coming years. “Eastern European countries and countries outside of Europe are planting apple and pear trees with European subsidies on a large scale, and here in Belgium and the Netherlands, we are saddled with our fruit. It is a bizarre situation,” says Florent Geerdens from tree nursery René Nicolai. “The fruit cultivation sector is split down the middle, and it is forced into this position by politics.”

Massive planting in Romania 
Last week, Geerdens was at top fruit fair Interpoma in Italy, and he indicates that the mutual mood was resigned. “First of all, we notice the enormous demand for trees from many Eastern European countries. The volumes concerned are large, and especially Romanians are planting many apple trees, and they will continue doing so. But further outside of Europe, in countries such as Ukraine and Russia, there is also a strong interest in planting apple trees. Politicians make the decisions about subsidies to other countries, but I wonder if they realise what they are doing. How can we reach the people in politics concerned, and point out these factors to them? When they start harvesting in Eastern European countries in a few years, where will all those volumes go?”

Deviate from classic strains
Another point Geerdens has noticed is that ‘we’ in Western Europe focus on renewal. “The focus is on new strains, ways to be distinctive, being a trendsetter in top fruit. We have to deviate from classic top fruit strains such as Golden, Braeburn, Red Delicious, Jonagold or Elstar, for these can be cultivated anywhere in the world. Where export is concerned, we should arm ourselves against increasing competition, and enter the market with new, protected varieties and strains with intellectual rights of ownership. Price-wise we will no longer succeed, because free strains can be cultivated cheaper in those other countries. We will always have the shortest straw regarding cost price. The only way to block Eastern Europe is by having intellectual rights of ownership. We can arm ourselves with these, and we can see where we can or want to plant what and in what quantity. And control it. Other industries are doing that as well. The fruit cultivation should follow this example more often.”

Russia - other markets
“If Russia ever returned as a market, it would never be as before the boycott again regarding volumes. That is why it is necessary to remain on the lookout for new markets, and there are new options. For example, volumes are now being sent to India and China, but the prices they receive there are not very high. Belgians and the Dutch have not been ‘chosen’ by those countries without reason: they could offer a good product at a fairly cheap price. We have offered the fruit at fairly competitive prices in the past two year, in order to sell our apples. If other producers start offering the same globally at cheaper prices, those new customers would just switch again. It is good that we can sell our apples there, but we are not making a good profit. That is why it is important to focus on those distinctive varieties. If the top fruit sector does not innovate, they will be in for an even harder time.”

For more information:
Florent Geerdens
Boomkwekerij René Nicolaï nv
Lindestraat 22
3570 Alken, Belgium
T (+32) 11 31 21 25
F (+32) 11 31 65 26
[email protected]
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