Tony Derwael, Bel'Export:

"Pears: Drought to lead to stressed market, at first, with shortages toward the end"

In Belgium, pear harvesting is in full swing. Many growers and traders are already skeptical about the coming season, which will be another uncertain one. "Belgian pears are facing another challenging year," says Tony Derwael of Bel'Export.

"There are still about two weeks of harvesting to go in the Netherlands and Belgium. That's actually too long. We'll have to make sure it's done by next week; otherwise, much of the fruit will be unsuitable for long storage. Picking one week later is equivalent to selling three months earlier."

Stress market at start of season
The much-discussed drought and recent heat are the biggest reason for this haste. "Before two weeks ago, there was little difference between irrigated and non-irrigated plots. Now, the drought is starting to affect the trees. The irrigated trees are less affected and are, thus, bearing firmer fruits. In Belgium, the fruit is at additional risk because there's less water available than in, say, the Netherlands, where they have somewhat more irrigation options," explains Tony.

The exporter thinks this will lead to a stress market. "They won't be able to store much of the fruit, so I'm expecting a lot of early sales. Everything having to be sold at very short notice will put pressure on the market. Last year, we could sell through July, but this year, some Conference batches might not even make it to April. So, the market will be stressed at the start of the season. That could cause significant shortages towards the end of the season, which again isn't desirable."

Apple market not empty
Tony sees a similar situation with apples. "Again, the refrigerated volumes will determine the season's course. There's some damage to the apples, but it's not too bad. When temperatures reached 38°C, they, naturally, had some sun damage. It's not as bad as two years ago, though. With Elstar and Cox, I estimate it to be about ten percent of the crop; with Jonagold, roughly five percent. Fortunately, the most dangerous period is over. There are fewer daylight hours, and temperatures are dropping."

But, unlike pears, the apple market is not empty. "There are still quite a few 'old' apples on the market. No doubt people are still trying to sell these, which will pretty soon make for an overcrowded market. With storage costs rising sharply, many traders may then offer the new crop to the industry. As I said, a great deal depends on how many apples and pears can be put into cold storage. That's always a guessing game, but, let me just say, I hope we're in for a good year," Tony concludes.

For more information:
Tony Derwael
2 Nerem Street
3840 Borgloon, Belgium
Tel +32 (0) 124 40 551


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