Sep 12, 2016Tomato production varies in European countries
European trends in tomato production vary from country to country, driven by market demands and production cycles. A panel of speakers at the recent International Tomato Conference in Antwerp, Belgium, spoke about trends in their specific countries.
There are some 250 growers in Belgium who produce tomatoes of all varieties on about 1,200 acres. Of the tomatoes grown, 70 percent are grown for the export market. Their export market, however, has been greatly impacted by the Russian embargo, said speaker Raf De Blaiser of LAVA. Before 2014, Belgium shipped some 20 million tomatoes to Russia.
Of the total production, 95 percent is sold through auctions and 100 percent produced under glass houses. Most growers have implemented modern greenhouse techniques, such as integrated pest management and pollination using bumblebees.
Of the varieties produced, 23 percent are beef tomatoes, 5 percent plum, 50 percent vine and the rest specialty. Specialty tomato production has climbed steadily from just 10 acres in 2005 to about 260 acres in 2015. Tomatoes were once considered a seasonal product that could only be obtained 10 months of the year, but Belgian producers have now moved to year-round production, De Blaiser said.
Unlike Belgium, France mostly produces for French consumers. In fact, 90 percent of all production is sold locally. For this reason, speaker Marie Deredec of Prince de Bretagne said that it’s especially important to understand what consumers want.
“French people want French products,” she said.
With this understanding, the French have created labels to show not only that tomatoes are grown in the country, but also in which region. For example, a tomato from Provence would carry a label that reads “Je suis né en Provence” (I was born in Provence).
Other trends include the move to winter production, which is something they never had before. As a result, greenhouse production is evolving to include more sustainable methods of production, including the use of geothermal heating.
France has some 7,500 acres under production, although production is apparently decreasing, she said.
The Netherlands has approximately 300 tomato growers, 85 percent of which belong to producer organizations. There are roughly 4,000 acres under production in the country. Unlike in Belgium, approximately 96 percent of product is marketed through direct sales, said Arne van Aalst, CEO of Prominent.
All tomatoes in the Netherlands are produced under glass, with big cluster making up the majority of production. Ninety percent of production goes to the export market – Germany, the United Kingdom, Spain and Italy take the bulk of tomatoes grown in the Netherlands.
Like growers in other countries, tomato growers in the Netherlands are increasingly looking for more sustainable production methods, like geothermal and energy-neutral production. Perhaps the biggest change, though, has been in surface production, which has almost doubled since 2000. In the future, they expect companies to grow in size, and the production of more specialty tomatoes with special tastes, van Aalst said.
According to Jan van der Blom, coordinator of the Department of Production Techniques at Coexphal, Spain’s production calendar is complementary to that of the Netherlands. Unfortunately, though, their export and import markets are in a constant state of fluctuation. Spain has not been able to keep up with trends, and as a result has lost a lot of its market, Van der Blom said.
Spain is a huge tomato producer. Throughout the year, the country grows some 25,000 acres of product sold through big supermarket chains. Spanish growers are part of cooperatives. There has been a rise in cooperatives, driven by the fact that auctions are not able to keep up with sales.
Spain doesn’t keep good production records, but Van der Blom estimated the following for type of tomatoes produced: 16 percent round; 15 percent round medium; 39 percent vine; 12 percent cherry; 8 percent plum; and 7 percent specialty. Increasingly, he said, organic production is becoming more important.
Since Spain has a longer, warmer season, greenhouse production is less important, making the overall cost of production lower. Multi-tunnel production is a rapidly growing sector, but the majority of growers still use the old type of housing – a simple roof structure, Van der Blom said. Only 5 percent use some form of heating.
Since most tomatoes are grown outside, Spanish production is heavily impacted by the weather, which creates variations in production. Spanish producers deal with pest and disease issues. Some, like white fly, are a big problem. Others, like russet mite, don’t even have a biological solution, he said.
Italy has about 20,000 acres under tomato production. Product is sold into three different markets. Increasingly, integrated producers are working on consumer values and going for a one-on- one relationship with retailers.
Product is also sold through producer cooperatives and organizations, and into wholesale markets for grocery stores and the foodservice industry.
According to Andrea Launeck of Syngenta, consumption of fresh tomatoes in Italy is on the decline.
“We are buying more ready-to-go tomatoes rather than cooking,” he said.
While the market for big tomatoes, like the beef tomato, has decreased, the market for small cluster tomatoes is on the rise, he said.
Italian producers are investing in technology, driven mostly by requests from retailers who want more consistent quality year round. Italian producer groups are focused on new branding initiatives. Moving forward, they will be focusing on increasing business- to-business sales through quality branding, he said.
Scandinavia has never been known for its tomato production. In fact, the countries that make up the region mostly import them. But there is small-scale production happening on some farms with 2.5-acre greenhouses. The most high-tech companies are located in the north of Finland, where they use artificial light, said Olle Olofsson from Svenska Odlarlaget in Sweden.
Scandinavia has a strong movement in organic production, a sector that has grown by 39 percent this year. While there’s demand for local product, this is particularly difficult to meet. One of the paradoxes of Scandinavian production is that while demand for very high-quality products is high, the northern countries produce the lowest quality. Production in Sweden is particularly low.
“We are really bad in production,” Olofsson said. “We can only produce 15 percent of what we demand.”
Sweden spends roughly 250 million euros on tomato imports annually. For the most part, the country imports cherry tomatoes, then vine, then plum, he said.
— Melanie Epp, VGN correspondent