At the fair Fruchtwelt Bodensee, a podium discussion took place on the theme “Between system relevance and cost explosion: fruit growing in uncertain times”. This was a discussion between State Secretary Sabine Kurtz from the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection Baden-Württemberg, the president of the fruit region Bodensee Thomas Heilig, the director of Obstgroßmarkt Markdorf and interim director of Obst vom Bodensee Vertriebsgesellschaft Nico Grundler and spokesman for Landwirtschaft connect Deutschland Anthony Lee. Manfred Ehrle was moderator.
Close cooperation in the value chain
The retail trade accounts for around 85 percent of apple sales in Germany, says Thomas Heilig. He is therefore in favor of closer cooperation between growers, sellers and trade, but he would also like to see the retail trade cooperate better. As a positive example, he mentions a communication model in Switzerland, where both the trade and the cooperatives and the growers meet every eight weeks to discuss the market situation. He also advocated transparent communication in general: “The market needs to know what the grower is left with in the end.”
Existential difficulties in the sector
Anthony Lee says that the retail trade has achieved large profits during corona. Traditional businesses had to stop working while the food trade enriched itself. “The retail trade gives us just enough so that we don’t starve.” He also criticized German policy in this regard, which he believes could intervene more in energy prices. In addition, he doubts that the VAT reduction will help the companies, and believes that it will rather help the retail trade. Nevertheless, he expects things to improve again in the next two to three years.
However, Nico Grundler contradicted this: “If it was really about pure profit, then only Polish apples would be on the shelves. However, this is not the case. Our customers prefer our products, but of course only at affordable market prices.” According to Nico, the problem is much more , that you need a competitive product that can be grown and that must be available in stores at a reasonable price. In addition, the entire value chain up to the grower must be paid fairly. “Retail also has to fight for every customer.”
Distorting competition from politics?
Sabine Kurtz noted that direct sales, organic shops and weekly markets in particular suffer from existential problems. But politicians cannot and must not intervene directly in the market. “In the economic area, the politicians are only responsible for the prerequisites. We do not intervene in the market itself. The price is still determined by supply and demand.” Politicians exert influence, says Thomas Heilig, in the form of the minimum wage regulation or not approving plant protection products. “It is a distortion of competition. However, it is still important to keep the borders open and preserve the free market.”
Not only do customers lack knowledge about what actually reaches the growers, they also no longer have a sense of the products. “The problem can only be solved through communication.” Anthony Lee also believes that it is important to convince trading partners and customers that things are getting better. But also to make it clear to consumers what would be lost if growers stopped working en masse.
To reach consumers through information
“Our agriculture and horticulture have the most manpower, our horticulture is second to none worldwide.” Policy must be very careful, especially with regard to crop protection. In this regard, Anthony Lee spoke about how the abandonment of plant protection products has led to significant crop losses, which have plunged Sri Lanka into crisis. “If the grower dies, the village dies.” Sabine Kurtz is therefore in favor of promoting origin and quality brands and the organic brand as well as campaigns such as ‘Von Daheim’ etc. to a greater extent. or school fruit programs at Lake Constance.
Manfred Ehrle asked whether the media are not obliged to communicate these problems better. Anthony Lee believes that everyone has that duty. “In recent years, we have had a unique framing of agriculture. Often untruths are deliberately told. If you vote green, you don’t always get green politics.”
Anthony Lee believes that politicians should insist more on local quality standards when it comes to food imports from abroad. “We can’t be importing organic apples from, say, New Zealand, which doesn’t make any sense from an environmental point of view.” The retail trade should make a clearer commitment to local products. Minister Kurtz replied that these problems already fall under the Supply Chain Act. “But here we may be discussing this at a level where expertise is lacking,” she says.
Rainer Wielatt, director of Salem-Frucht and a colleague of Nico Grundler, saw a complex problem here that started with the sanctions since the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014. The German fruit sector used to sell significant quantities to Russia, but this quantity was then massively limited. And Poland can also sell less on the Russian market these days, which means more Polish supply coming to the European market. We actually have more problems bringing products to market. The possibilities are more limited than six to eight years ago.
Furthermore, persistent poor quality on the shelves would limit sales. “We must create a core quality management system which will also reduce the quantities. Nothing is thrown away but used for processing. We must become aware of the opportunities in the crisis and use them. But we may also have to adjust the varieties and reduce the quantities on the market through unpopular measures .”
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