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Andreas Kreuzwieser from Meleco Ltd on growing and marketing Austrian organic apples

"We are now trying to build a buffer for the upcoming season"

A cold front followed by radiation frosts hit large parts of Austria at the end of April, severely affecting both the wine and fruit growing sectors. Although no concrete damage assessment is yet available, significant yield and quality losses are expected, especially in Styria, the country's most important apple-growing region. "Under normal circumstances, the impact would not have been so severe, but compared to a normal flowering year, the vegetation this year is about two to three weeks further advanced. That means the apple blossom was already over, and the fruits had grown to the size of a fingernail. Without suitable frost protection measures, the damage is partly enormous. On some sites, not a single apple will remain. Thus, it marks - again - a challenging year," outlines Andreas Kreuzwieser, Managing Director of Meleco, based in Pasching.

Meleco is dedicated to the storage, processing, packaging, and collective marketing of Austrian organic fruit and has its producers in all fruit-growing regions of Austria. 'Only' a third of the organically produced pome fruit comes from Styria. According to Kreuzwieser, yield losses can vary greatly from region to region. "In 2016, we had a similar situation with significant yield losses in Styria. North of the Alps, however, there were only minor reductions in quantity."

Although the conventional apple market is partly reverting to plastic, organic apples are almost exclusively offered in cardboard trays (4 to 10 Foodtainers).

Sobering price negotiations
Meanwhile, the marketing of last season's organic apples is in full swing. "There was a below-average harvest last year. Accordingly, we had no reason to sell our stock quickly. Price-wise, there is now more to expect than just two to three months ago. Given that there will be another smaller harvest this year, we now have to try to use the current price level to build a buffer for the coming season," says Kreuzwieser, who also points to significant cost increases. Above all, the increased labor costs are significant, while energy prices have somewhat stabilized again.

Despite frost protection, there will be yield losses again this year.

In practice, it was extremely difficult to realize the needed price increases. Kreuzwieser: "The natural food retailers have moved the most, while there has been little understanding and corresponding concessions in the regular retail market. This was not only a disappointment for us, but especially for our fruit growers." We already warned our customers in autumn 2023 that full supply until the next harvest is not to be taken for granted – and that is exactly how it will turn out.

According to Kreuzwieser, there will be enough stock to serve the markets until the end of June/beginning of July. There will be a gap of 4–6 weeks. From the long-term storage, the three varieties Topaz, Gala, and Arlet are now available. "The usual demand increase for Topaz during this time has already begun. Good storage stock is already scarce. In the last season phase, Arlet, a variety with excellent shelf life, will also come to the fore. With Gala, on the other hand, we see a nearly constant demand throughout the season. Overall, we notice a very solid basic demand for organic apples on the domestic market, even if few promotions are run. This is a reassuring sign overall and a very good omen for the new season."

Decreased investment and innovation willingness
Although there is generally interest in new varieties, there is currently a lack of willingness to invest. "Given the circumstances, everyone is trying to get through the season frugally. Instead of new varieties and new plantings, we are staying cautious and conservative. We rely on red mutants of proven varieties and try to achieve the necessary rejuvenation by grafting old plants. Overall, organic apple cultivation is quite stable, but there are currently no major ambitions for conversion."

Kreuzwieser also refers to the possible long-term effects of the aforementioned yield and marketing situation. "History has shown that disaster years always have serious late consequences. Many farms are now struggling with an uncertain succession."

Images: Meleco GmbH

For more information:
Andreas Kreuzwieser
Meleco GmbH
Johann Lehner Straße 5
4061 Pasching
T: +43 (0) 7221 21212
[email protected]

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