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The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » December 21, 2011
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Poland: The EU’s Biggest Apple Producer
December 21, 2011   
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Poland is a giant in terms of fruit production and exports in Europe. Apples, valued for their flavor and nutritional value, enjoy a special position.

According to recent estimates from the World Apple and Pear Association (WAPA), the European Union will have produced 10.2 million metric tons of apples in 2011, which is almost 500,000 tons more than in 2010. Apple production growth will be visible in most EU countries. The greatest growth in terms of volume will take place in Poland, where the 2011 harvest is estimated at 2.3 million tons, or 24 percent more than in 2010. By comparison, the Central Statistical Office (GUS) estimates Poland’s apple output at 2.4 million tons. This will make Poland the EU’s biggest apple producer, with a 23-percent share in total output. In Italy, the leader in 2010, the apple harvest is estimated at just over 2.2 million tons, only 1.5 percent more than in the previous year.

Apples are very healthy fruit. They are a good source of vitamin C, contain a lot of potassium, iron, magnesium, copper, silicon, zinc, beta-carotene, quercetin and lots of pectin. Apples slow down the progress of circulatory diseases and cancer and also seal the blood vessels. Apples increase resistance to infections, so they should be eaten by people prone to colds. They are effective at removing toxins and cholesterol from the body. They have a good effect on the nails, skin and hair. No wonder this fruit is so popular. In Poland, a third of domestically grown fruit that consumers eat are apples.

However, as data from the Institute of Agricultural and Food Economics (IERiGŻ) show, Polish people are eating fewer apples. Estimates for 2010 say 16 kg of apples were eaten per person, compared to over 20 kg at the start of the previous decade. Poles are increasingly replacing apples with other fruit such as bananas or citrus fruit. Melons, grapes, mango and kiwi fruit are also gaining in popularity. Besides, instead of eating apples people often drink fruit juice as a substitute.

Dropping domestic demand for apples makes the development of exports crucially important for Poland’s orchard owners. Despite a poor harvest in the previous season, apple exports in the first half of 2011 were quite high, according to GUS. The biggest amount was exported to Russia—over 204,100 tons, and Ukraine—about 72,300 tons. Poland exported a total of 344,000 tons of apples in the first six months of 2011. The IERiGŻ estimates that for the whole of 2011 exports will reach 650,000 tons, compared with 450,000 tons the previous year. The biggest importers will be Russia (50 percent of exports), the Czech Republic and Ukraine.

Consumers in Poland have many apple varieties to choose from. Two groups of this fruit enjoy a special position thanks to European protection.

In November 2010, apples grown in the Łącko Valley, southeastern Poland, were registered by the European Commission under the name “apples from Łącko” as a protected geographical indication. The products that can be sold as “apples from Łącko” include such apple varieties as Idared and its sports, Jonagold and its sports, Champion and its sports, Ligol and its sports, Golden Delicious and its sports, Gala and its sports, Boskoop, Red Boskoop, Elise, Early Geneve, Topaz, Lobo, Rubin and its sports, Gloster, and Jonagored and its sports.

The apples have to be produced in Małopolska province within the boundaries of the following communes: Łącko, Podegrodzie, Stary Sącz and Łukowica. This area lies in the Łącko Valley (Kotlina Łącka), which has a mild climate highly suited to plant cultivation. Apples from Łącko are more rosy that the average for a given variety, have very firm flesh and high acidity. Their flavor has “a green mountain overtone,” meaning they have a more distinct flavor, are more tart and aromatic than average. The firm flesh during harvesting guarantees that these apples will stay crunchy after being properly stored over a longer period of time.

The fruit-growing tradition around Stary Sącz, Podegrodzie and Łącko dates back to the 12th century. Apparently the first orchards here were set up by Princess Kinga, wife of King Bolesław the Chaste. The local fruit (mostly plums and apples) was sent down the Dunajec River to the Vistula River and all the way to Gdańsk, from where it was taken by ship to other countries around Europe. The Łącko orchards are also mentioned in 16th-century documents as farm and parish gardens. By the 17th and 18th centuries, the region boasted extensive apple orchards. Łącko and its environs owes its orchards to the hard work and effort of many people. The local parish priests also contributed greatly to the region’s fruit-growing success. It was said of Father Maciej Szaflarski that he ordered all betrothed couples to plant at least 10 apple trees in their gardens before they got married. Another local legend says that the penance Father Jan Piaskowy gave his parishioners was to plant fruit trees.

Apples from Łącko owe their distinctive flavor and aroma to the microclimate of the Łącko Valley. Most of the fruit grown around Łącko is exceptionally juicy and aromatic. The shape of the fruit depends on the variety. Thanks to the microclimate and the lay of the land, fruit rust is relatively rare. Most of the orchards lie on slopes with an inclination of about 15 degrees, which results in the most beneficial yearly temperature distribution.

A large part of the credit for promoting apples from Łącko is due to the Łącka Droga Owocowa (Łącko Fruit Road) Association. The association came up with the idea of promoting the region as a major producer of fruit and fruit products (including alcoholic beverages) in order to increase direct sales from orchards, which serves to increase farmer incomes and ensure the stability of jobs in the region.

In October 2011, the European Commission registered another group, “apples from Grójec,” as a protected geographical indication. These apples have more intense color than average, more blush and high acidity, about 5 percent higher than the average for a given variety. This is due to the unique microclimate in the region of Grójec (Mazovia province), with its high temperatures in the period before the apple harvest. The special character of Grójec apples is also influenced by the region’s dominant podzol and pseudopodzol soils of lower productivity classes, which are ideal for growing apples. The Grójec region has been linked to fruit production since the Middle Ages, while Grójec county and neighboring counties have developed apple growing into a unique industry. Apple growers were followed by businesses serving this agricultural segment; they built the infrastructure needed to support apple farmers. Southern Mazovia has thus turned into “Europe’s biggest orchard,” as the locals like to call it. The centuries-old apple growing tradition of the region means it is immediately associated with the fruit. The fame enjoyed by apples from the Grójec region is due to their significant market share and high quality. The region producing “apples from Grójec” includes 21 communes in Mazovia province and five communes in Łódź province. The biggest concentration of apple trees is in the communes of Błędów, Belsk Duży, Grójec, Warka (up to 70 percent of crops).

The beginnings of fruit growing near Grójec date back to the times of Queen Bona, who received large pieces of land in the area in 1545. Thanks to her efforts there were several times more manor orchards in Grójec county at the time than in neighboring counties. In the 19th century a lot of credit for promoting apple growing in the Grójec region is due to priests, who grew apples themselves and taught others how to produce the fruit. Poland’s first fruit storage facility was set up here in 1918. This enabled apples to be sold in the winter months when there was a shortage of high-quality fresh fruit. Apple growing in the Grójec region developed very rapidly after World War II, as proved by the founding of the Research Institute of Pomology and Horticulture’s experimental farm. This farm became a model facility that helped teach local fruit growers modern methods of cultivating fruit trees. As time went on, the productivity of the Grójec region’s orchards grew steadily. The annual celebration of the Apple Blossom Festival testifies to the importance fruit growing has for the local community.

Apples are a big Polish agricultural export hit. As part of the “Poland Tastes Good” campaign promoting Polish food, the unique flavor of Polish apples was recently presented to members of the European Parliament. A tasting of apples from the Łącko Valley was held in late September 2011 in the buildings of the European Council and the European Parliament in Brussels (see photo below). Poland’s minister of agriculture and rural development Marek Sawicki brought 12,000 of the famous slightly sour and crunchy apples to give away to participants in a session of the European Union Council of Ministers for Agriculture and Fisheries as well as Euro-MPs. The fruit was also made available at meetings of working groups held in the Council building. Euro-MPs from different countries found the Polish apples tasty, as did European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek and EU commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development Dacian Ciolos.
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