Georg Boekels, President of the Provinzialverband Rheinischer Obst- und Gemüsebauer e. V., on German apple growing:

"It can take up to 20 years for a variety to establish itself on the market"

Although the harvest of Elstar and Gala apples in the Rhineland will be slightly smaller this year than in 2022, a record harvest was also achieved last year. "That the harvest is smaller this year is not unusual. Since the harvest volumes were so large last year, we can speak of a normal harvest in 2023," says Georg Boekels, president of the Provinzialverband Rheinischer Obst- und Gemüsebauer e. V. "There was a hot spell in May/June, but it lasted for a relatively short time. Usually, apples are quickly affected by sunburn from temperatures of 30 degrees, but that was not the case this year." Boekels himself runs a fruit farm in Bergheim and cooperates with the Frutania company, among others.

Georg Boekels and his son at the Fliesteden fruit farm

Concentration on individual varieties
To boost consumer interest, fruit growers are always trying to introduce new varieties to the market, such as the recent Magic Star, which is produced exclusively for the Edeka chain. "However, the production volumes of Magic Star are still on a limited scale. Varieties promoted by the German Fruit Varieties Consortium, such as Fräulein, are also not yet particularly dominant on the market. Even with club varieties like Kanzi, there were hopes that it could increase consumption. But it can take up to 20 years for a variety to establish itself on the market," says Boekels. Furthermore, sales of the Berlepsch variety have always been at a low level, although sales figures have not fallen.

According to Boekels, there is also societal pressure on the industry with regard to variety selection: "Since we are supposed to use fewer pesticides and also have to find varieties that are more heat resistant, older varieties like Cox Orange are falling away. Even when you find a marketable variety, it can take up to ten years to recoup the cost of royalties. With Cox Orange, the problem is that the qualities leave a lot to be desired and it's no longer marketable after November."

Especially since retailers are also unable to offer several varieties at once, he said. "When it comes to marketing, different packaging, formats, calibers, etc. still come into play. It would be better if everyone focused on single varieties. That would be better for all market participants than constantly announcing the new stars in the sky. At the same time, every innovative company would also like to be at the forefront, since money can sometimes still be earned accordingly at the top. After all, those who only cultivate cheap products will also have difficulties in the future."

Although trial work is already being done with regard to variety development, what is lacking, according to Boekels, are long-term trials. "Considering the pressure to cultivate new varieties, more should be done in this area." In principle, the situation for Elstar and Jonagold is already over, Braeburn is as good as through. Marketing is going on, however, expansion is not possible."

Burden of high energy prices
In addition, electricity costs have risen strikingly, he said. "As a fruit producer, you now pay around EUR 0.40/kWh for electricity. At our company, we have always worked with natural power for 15 years. Although the wind electricity has not become more expensive, one demands from us nevertheless 0.39 EUR/kWh." He therefore shows a lack of understanding in view of the political framework conditions that would allow such non-transparent pricing policies of electricity producers. "Also the higher costs by the minimum wage are socially wanted, whereby the society does not want to carry the additional costs. This ostrich policy is not good for anyone. Everyone wants the wage, but is not willing to pay it. The question here is whether you wouldn't have to change the entire wage structure."

Commitment to a clear labeling regulation
Industrial goods from Poland also pose difficulties, he said. "If we were to sell our industrial goods at the price level that corresponds to Polish goods, we would not be able to compete with them at all, given our wage structure. However, this leaves qualities in the trade that one would actually like to market to industry. Since the consumer does not accept these goods, this naturally affects our market situation. We complained about this at the last conference of agriculture ministers on September 20. All state associations were asked to make it clear to their minister of agriculture that a precise labeling regulation for processed as well as non-processed products must be established. It must be clear where the product comes from. This is something the processing industry likes to keep quiet about in order to maximize their profit margins, which in turn negatively impacts our production. That's why we're advocating for the adoption of a regulation that does justice to local production."

For more information:
Georg Boekels
Provinzialverband Rheinischer Obst- und Gemüsebauer e.V.
Rochusstraße 18
53123 Bonn
Fon 0228 - 52 006 700

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