Due to the high energy prices and corresponding uncertainty among growers, this year's season in the greenhouses at LGV Gärtnergemüse and Seewinkler Sonnengemüse started relatively late. Due to the late planting, the harvest started three to four weeks later overall, according to Josef Peck, CEO of the LGV Sonnengemüse cooperative, when asked. "The yields of the most important crops, tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers, were quite good overall: but of course, we missed those three/four weeks and couldn't make up for it."
Demand on the Austrian domestic market was high and stable throughout the season, Peck continues. "We were able to sell our harvest volume without any major problems and had no significant oversupply or spoilage. In the first half of the year, the price increase compared to the previous year led to a reluctance to buy, but in the second half of the year, consumers got used to the generally higher consumer prices and accepted them." Compared to last year's season, there was a price increase of ten to 15 percent for the most important items, says Peck.
Josef Peck has been leading the growers' cooperative since 2018.
The top crops of cucumbers, peppers, and tomatoes have developed almost similarly this year. Peck: "Apart from the aforementioned reduction in volume, the season went quite well for everything. We concentrated on our standard products this year, as the demand for specialties was lower, particularly due to the price. However, we were able to keep to the agreed quantities. We are also assuming that 2024 will be a transitional year in which there will be no major innovations, either in cultivation or marketing. The situation for specialty crops, including mini vegetables, is expected to improve again from 2025."
The harvest of the three main crops in the greenhouse was completed in week 46. "Demand was still pleasing at the end of the season. We didn't have anything left over anywhere and were able to market our quantities almost exactly on time. In this respect, the planning of our gardeners and vegetable growers is getting better and better. In the wake of the energy crisis, our member companies are also making efforts to invest in energy-saving. One example of this is energy screens so that less energy is needed for heating. In general, we are trying to get by with less energy and implement alternatives, such as wood chip systems, in practice."
Fresh ginger, locally grown.
Domestic ginger on the rise
The 157 vegetable growers of LGV Gärtnergemüse and Seewinkler Sonnengemüse produce a wide range of vegetables in greenhouse and open-air cultivation and, with an annual production volume of more than 42,000 tons, make a significant contribution to Austria's security of supply. In addition to the usual market products, the cooperative also strives to enrich its product range with new and surprising products from local cultivation. Now in its fifth year, fresh ginger from protected cultivation is offered from September to Christmas, explains Peck.
"We tried it out in Seewinkel in Burgenland and had a bumper harvest in the first year. There were setbacks in the following years, as the crop is particularly challenging. We have now found a good way forward and can offer food retailers a high-end alternative to imported products."
The first half of the year was also particularly challenging in outdoor cultivation, due to the rain and cold in April and May. "This led to very low yields, especially for early potatoes. The situation then improved in the second half of the year, so we are now expecting good yields of cabbage vegetables. Compared to other growing regions such as Styria, where it rained a lot, we have been spared crop failures."
Development of the vegetable market and the producer cooperative
As one of the largest vegetable marketers in Austria, the cooperative is in direct contact with the domestic food retail sector. "When it comes to packaging, we are excited to see what the legislator and our customers will stipulate in the future. There has already been a strong move away from plastic, but this has been partially reversed, as plastic provides a good view of the product being marketed and contributes to an optimal microclimate in the packaging. Recently, however, there has been talk of a plastic ban again, which I don't think is feasible, especially for fine vegetables such as mini cucumbers or cherry tomatoes."
Overall, the management of LGV Sonnengemüse is quite positive about the future. "The challenge for the future lies not in marketing our products, but in maintaining production. We have to secure production: In some cases, we see a high demand for land for new extensions. At the same time, producer prices have been adequate to very good in the last three to five years. So we don't see any major existential fears among our gardeners and vegetable growers. On the contrary: there are many young gardeners who have actively taken over their parents' businesses and are also open to investment," Peck concludes.
Images: © zweischrittweiter.at