Global agriculture: soaring grain prices cause chilling effect on vegetable sector

The global upsurge in grain prices is shaking the vegetable sector. Many producers converted in the fall of 2021, creating the fear of a shortage.

15% of our producers have already made this choice, according to Jean-Claude Orhan, vegetable producer in the Morbihan department and president of the organization of vegetable producers of the large Breton cooperative Eureden (merger of Triskalia and Aucy). 15% of 1,000 producers is not negligible. It is rather worrisome. This organization grows 21,000 ha of vegetables and produces 250,000 t per year, mostly for manufacturers of canned and frozen goods.

Weather hazards
The current upsurge in grain prices has caused this offset. But it is not the only factor, according to Jean-Claude Orhan. We’ve had several years of weather hazards. In the past two years, the sowing of green beans in June had to be interrupted for 15 days. As a result, 10 days with no harvest in August. Eureden's freezing and appertizing plants also had to interrupt their production. In 2021, 20% of our usual volumes of green beans were missing. 

Sanitary hazards
In addition to the climate, we’ve also had to deal with sanitary hazards. The possibilities to protect our crops are constantly being reduced. Committed for several years to the agro-ecological transition, vegetable producers - even conventional - are using fewer and fewer chemical inputs. But we have no alternative, no protection. A dead end.

For example, regarding the green beans, the seedling fly lays larvae that eat the sprouts, which destroys the plot. We used to have protections but today, we are at the mercy of insect pests.” In 2021, the organization lost 30% of its usual volumes. 

Less risk, more profit
At last, there was the surge in grain prices: +45% for wheat and corn, +70% for rapeseed. Not to mention the rise in costs: +10% for energy and inputs, +40% for fertilizers. This is enough to make the hesitant farmers turn to less risky and more profitable crops. 150 Eureden producers went ahead already, despite the safety net of the strong contractualization of this sector.

We are worried about the 2022 harvest. We are expecting another loss of about 15%, according to Jean-Claude Orhan. It is getting difficult to make predictions. After 10 years of profit, productivity is now steadily decreasing. In order to honor the demand from manufacturers and obtain the same volumes, producers must now grow more hectares.

Vicious circle
The decrease in volumes should lead to higher vegetable prices. This phenomenon does not only concern the West, it is even more obvious in the plains with large crops, highly mechanized. It is not the case in the golden belt of Northern Brittany. Our crops are not very mechanized, they require a lot of manual labor which represents up to 40% of the price of the vegetable, according to Marc Kéranguéven, president of Sica in Saint-Pol-de-Léon (Finistère). His organization is therefore less affected than the processed vegetable sector where it is much easier to switch productions. 

Marc Kéranguéven predicts that if these higher prices for grains were to persist for several years, some producers could be tempted.


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