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The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » December 19, 2013
Polska… tastes good!
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Apples – A Polish Export Hit
December 19, 2013   
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Apples are one of the most important products of Polish fruit farming. They account for almost three-quarters of the total volume of fruit produced in Poland.

The acreage of apple orchards in Poland has increased rapidly in recent years, and the same goes for apple production. At the start of the previous decade, orchards occupied about 165,000 hectares; now this has risen to almost 195,000 hectares. Old orchards are being replaced with new, more intensive ones, with varieties that are popular among consumers.

Preliminary data from the Central Statistical Office (GUS) as of the end of September 2013 show that last year’s harvest in Poland yielded 2.92 million metric tons of apples, up from 2.88 million tons in 2012. In the past, such high output would seriously disrupt the apple market and usually ended in a drastic drop in the prices offered to growers. In recent years things have been different thanks to growing exports of apples and apple juice.

Estimates by the Institute of Agricultural and Food Economics released in November 2013 suggested that the export volume of Polish apples would exceed 1 million tons in 2013 for the first time, reaching a record of about 1.25 million tons. The value of exports was expected to hit a record of 475 million euros.

Apple juice concentrate continues to be a major item on the list of Polish agri-food exports. Poland exported 245,000 tons of the product in 2012, worth about 364 million euros. The volume expected to be reported for 2013 is even higher: 280,000 tons, worth 392 million euros.

Russia has been the biggest buyer of Polish dessert apples for years, with 442,200 tons shipped there in the 2011/2012 trading year. The estimate for 2012/2013 is more than 730,000 tons of apples sold to Russia.

Another important and traditional buyer is Belarus, where Poland exported over 135,000 tons of apples in the 2012/2013 trading year, followed by Ukraine (about 55,000 tons) and Kazakhstan (about 48,000 tons).

The 2012/2013 trading year saw a substantial increase in Polish apple exports to European Union countries, to more than 220,000 tons, compared with 82,100 tons in 2011/2012 and 49,700 tons in 2010/2011. However, this major increase in exports to EU markets is mainly the effect of a seasonal drop in apple production in Western Europe and might not be a stable trend. The biggest EU importers of Polish apples include Germany, Lithuania, Romania, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Estonia and Slovakia.

The increase in dessert apple exports is the result of changes in the horticultural sector combined with changes in distribution. The past few years have seen rapid development of logistics infrastructure for horticultural products (especially warehouse/storage facilities), most often financed under EU aid programs.

Apples are a product that enjoys the benefits of advanced storage technologies (ultra-low oxygen – ULO – refrigeration systems or ones with a controlled atmosphere). They can be kept fresh and maintain their high quality for six months and even longer. Modern cold stores built by farmers or fruit and vegetable producer groups, thanks to different forms of EU support, enable suppliers to extend the time during which they can offer their fruit. Consequently, the period of availability of Polish apples is longer than in the case of fruit in countries with less well developed logistics.

The growing apple exports and logistics infrastructure development would have been impossible without the commitment of fruit producers and traders. A growing number of businesses involved in exporting Polish agri-food products, including apples, are owned by fruit and vegetable producer groups and organizations. Regulations on the organization of agricultural markets (one of the components of the first pillar of the Common Agricultural Policy) for the fruit and vegetable segment aim to promote cooperation among fruit and vegetable producers as part of producer groups and organizations. These operate with the producers’ interests in mind, and their tasks include putting their members’ products on the market.

Such organizations remain under the producers’ control, even though they constitute an extra link between producers and the market. Their purpose is to adjust the supply of fruit and vegetables to market needs in terms of both quantity and quality. They gather information about the market’s expectations and present this to producers, who then know what to produce and how much. They also conduct effective marketing for the produce supplied by their members.

One important element of such cooperation as part of producer groups and organizations is concentration of the supply of fruit and vegetables. By offering large amounts of uniform produce, these entities are attractive trading partners for buyers such as large retail chains, processing plants and importers.

A major impulse for Polish fruit and vegetable producers came from EU assistance granted to producer groups set up in 2005-2013. This support encouraged many fruit farmers to work together, as confirmed by the number of producer groups that sprang up around Grójec, Warka and Sandomierz—areas of special concentration of apple production.

Thanks to the support obtained from the EU, these groups acquired advanced systems and machinery for harvesting (mobile platforms for fruit picking, orchard carts), storage (warehouses and cold stores), sorting (machines that can sort fruit by color intensity), preparation for sale (machines for washing, packing and labeling) and transport (trucks). With such a comprehensive and modern logistics base, fruit and vegetable producer groups offering apples have gained a competitive edge over other apple suppliers at home and abroad. Polish apples have made their way to many new markets. On existing markets, Polish suppliers have strengthened their position.

Stable growth in apple exports in the coming years will ensure further development of producer groups and organizations. In the longer term, however, Polish apple growers will have to face up to new challenges, including quality improvement and growing labor costs in fruit farming. New regulations under the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy for the 2014-2020 period provide for support that should help them deal with these challenges.
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