Opinion: Poland and Turkey have much in common with horticulture

July 29 , 2019

By John Giles, divisional director of agri-food & sustainability, Promar International

Having just returned from recent trips to Poland and Turkey to look at the opportunities in the horticultural sector, I found myself thinking about what both these producing and exporting countries had in common with each other.

Poland is now the dominant apple producer in the EU at almost 4.5 million tonnes per annum out of a total of 12 million tonnes. In the past, it has been noted mainly for the production of apple juice and fresh exports to Russia and other East European markets. Poland is now firmly established as one of the top 10 apple exporters in the world.

The overall direction of trade, however, has changed considerably in the last few years with the imposition of the trade embargo imposed by Russia. This has seen Polish exporters look for new markets in regions of the world, such as the Middle East, India and even in SE Asia. It has been harder work to gain a toe hold in the main EU markets of the UK, Germany, France, the Netherlands and Scandinavia, but the aspiration is still strong to do so. 

This change in trade flows has been accompanied by significant investment in the physical infrastructure of the country and in the fruit production and distribution sector too.  It was noticeable how much of this investment has been underpinned by funding from the European Commission. You were left with the very strong impression that Poland has fully embraced the benefits of EU membership in a way I am not sure we really ever really here in the U.K.

Turkey is also a large scale apple producer at around 3 million tonnes. As well as a relatively large domestic market of some 80 million consumers, exports have traditionally been made to the likes of Germany, Russia and the Middle East. This includes countries such as Iraq – now the 6th largest apple import market in the world and a place where many international fruit exporters would be wary of doing business in.  For Turkey, however, it seems a natural thing to do, even if trade is often conducted on both sides of the border by a series of agents.

Turkey, of course, is also a significant producer of citrus at around 4 million tonnes, as well as stone fruits at c. 590,000 tonnes and another 600,000 tonnes of cherries. Turkey also has a strong fruit processing sector and is particularly strong in product categories such as juices and concentrates, as well as in dried products.

The country is full of reports of increased plantings over the next few years and this leads to a familiar question – and maybe an answer too: where will this additional fruit be sold?  And the answer being - some more to the EU for sure, but a lot more in the future to Asia. India and SE Asian markets. Markets such as Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand and then the likes of HK and Singapore are all very much on the Turkish radar.

What then did I find these countries have in common?  In summary, this can be given as:

  • The leading players are highly professional, have well laid out orchards and packhouses to international standards. They have often traveled the world, seen what others have – and are willing to learn from them in terms of production and post-harvest infrastructure
  • They are both looking for new, emerging markets in a combination of the Middle East and Asia, but see supplying more mature markets in Western Europe as probably more difficult (but not impossible) As a result, there is a clear recognition of where they can compete in the future and maybe where they will find it more challenging
  • Mindset - the managers and owners of these businesses are invariably well informed, ambitious and well-traveled and are characterized by a very much “can do” attitude in terms of export development
  • Recognizing the need to “import” technical and commercial skills from abroad and adopt new forms of technology across the supply chain in the race to secure new markets and customers. These businesses are in a hurry
  • A ready willingness to ask themselves the “hard questions” about where their businesses are heading and then think about the actions they need to take in order to achieve mid to long term goals
  • A positive view of the world per se, and a fascination to understand more about the decisions we have made in this country about our future membership of the EU

In both countries, there is, of course, still a good deal of work to do in order to achieve the success they desire, but from what I have seen over the last few months, you wouldn’t bet against them achieving this in the future. Orchards will need to be replanted, new varieties will need to be developed, investments in post-harvest technology planned and implemented and new marketing and customer development skills learned.  Winning new export markets is hard work and takes time.

Coming back from both trips, I returned home invigorated and feeling I had been privileged to spend time with these businesses, and in many ways, the opportunity to have enhanced my own personal knowledge too, about what is happening on the other side of Europe.

John works for Promar International, a leading agri-food market research and consulting business and the value chain consulting arm of Genus plc. He can be contacted on john.giles@genusplc.com

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