Fruit Today interviewed the chairman of the Proexport’s Sectorial Association for Broccoli and Cauliflowers, Juan Manuel Ruiz, regarding the Covid-19 campaign and Brexit.
Brassica exports are remaining stable. In the last campaign, the total volume approached 500,000 t (320,000 of broccoli, 80,000 of cauliflower, and the remainder of other types), of which Murcia contributes 70% (250 mill. kg of broccoli and 50 of cauliflower). In 2020/21 these figures should be maintained or could become slightly higher. Regarding the ecological surface area, there is a clearly rising trend in crops due to the increase in demand.
The pandemic has boosted the consumption of brassicas. How have sales evolved and what expectations do you have?
We have seen an increase in the demand for vegetables in general, and for broccoli and cauliflower in particular, both bio and conventional, especially at the start of the pandemic. It has been noted most in the retailers, but other lines have been seriously reduced, such as the Horeca channel.
The long term expectations are good, both nationally and for exports. The demand will continue to grow; these vegetables are true natural, healthy medicines.
What average prices are being obtained for broccoli in this first phase of the campaign?
The situation in weeks 46 and 47 has been complicated for the production in general and broccoli hasn’t escaped this reality, which is totally different to last year, when prices were at more normal and reasonable levels. The campaign is seeing erratic behaviour in offer, demand and prices which, often, by a long chalk, do not even cover costs.
The weather has its effect both at origin, bringing plantations forward, and at the destination, encouraging the lengthening of local campaigns or meaning that consumption is higher or lower, but the prices that are being received in the fields are not comprehensible, in comparison with what we are seeing on the supermarket shelves, especially when the demand has not been bad and an incredible effort is being made to continue supplying the markets. Certain operators have been ‘fishing’ in troubled waters and taking advantage of a very specific situation that has to change. We cannot just sit back and do nothing if the campaign continues in this direction.
As broccoli is a product that is very focused on export and with sales based on programmes, how does the Food Chain Law affect you?
Its application is causing us many problems and difficulties, particularly for export.
Broccoli has a growing market in Spain and obviously it has been affected in the same way as other products. We are seeing many loopholes: how are crisis situations in demand or prices structured? How are the costs defined when there are many variables that could affect them? In the end, the law regulates Spanish products, but we are forgetting to control the produce coming from outside the country, which often arrives without the correct control or sufficient food guarantees, seriously affecting the profitability of local productions.
This year has meant a turning point for Brexit. How are the Proexport companies getting ready?
We are waiting for the final negotiations, as the competitiveness at this destination will depend on this to a large extent. Not having tariffs, through a positive agreement, will help to mitigate the impact of the change of setting in the relations with the United Kingdom. What is clear is that the operating methods will change drastically, as we will add a series of customs, plant protection and logistics procedures which will mean an extra cost that importers or the chains they work with will have to cope with, along with end consumers. This is where the importance lies in reaching an agreement, as it would be very difficult to cope with an average tariff of 11.5% or in the case of broccoli, of 8%.
Even so, many questions are still outstanding about the 1st of January. We don’t know how the border controls could affect us, if they could cause tailbacks and delays or how the pound will react against the euro.
With a ‘hard’ Brexit, could the United Kingdom try to look for trade alternatives in other origins?
We are convinced that it will remain loyal to Spanish broccoli. In Murcia we have a privileged climate, we can grow during periods when almost no other place can do so, with proven, recognised and highly appreciated quality. In the case of a hard Brexit, solutions will have to be found and the offer, demand and prices balanced with the new rules.
The British market is the second most important after Germany for the export of fruit and vegetables from the Region, and it can’t be replaced from one day to the next. We continue working to open up new markets.