An unprecedented slowdown in European consumption and a harvest that is almost three weeks early are marking the first part of the campaign.
Regarding this situation we talked to Cecilio Peregrín, Chairman of the Lettuce and Chicory sector at Proexport and Sales Manager at Primaflor.
From the sales point of view, what point have we reached?
We are experiencing a tremendous drop in demand throughout Europe, from Tarifa to Kiruna, in Sweden, which is also seriously affecting the German market, (the main consumer). In iceberg lettuces, this figure is between 15%-20% and in other leave products, it is reaching up to 30% and this is a generalised trend. These figures also include the Spanish market.
Production is also not easy at present.
Exactly. We are producing winter varieties with spring temperatures and the production is going mad; that is to say, the plants do not stop growing if the temperatures are five degrees above normal. This means that we are between 15 and 20 days ahead of a standard campaign.
Furthermore, the increase in costs, the problem of finding land to produce and, above all, the lack of water has resulted in a need to adjust the volumes in order to not have surplus produce. But, with any doubt, the subject of water is the most concerning one, as it is not given to us for free; we pay for it.
What figures are we talking about?
At the beginning of the campaign we tried to adjust the product by around 15-20% less compared to the previous season.
And in spite of this, the problems persist.
Yes, because the use is below an average of 20%. This means that there are producers who are virtually destroying plots of land because the lettuces do not reach the required quality.
There is less harvest than forecasted due to the excess heat and we have continued to have summer and spring pests almost until the end of December. All of the above, without mentioning the terrible effort involved in passing on the costs to the distribution, which are not compensating our suffering enough.
Can we talk about the relocation of lettuces?
In my opinion, no. What is really happening is that the producers, for many years now, have been opting for diversifying the risk, that is to say, farmers from the Campo de Cartagena are moving to the south and those from the south are moving north. Another point is that, as producers, we are trying to extend the harvest in high regions in certain months.
With this very changeable climate panorama, how are the crop programmes doing?
The plans are carried out with varieties and the temperature over the last five years, but we cannot control the fact that the thermometers have risen to 25 or even 30 degrees in December and that they don’t drop below 12 or 14 degrees at night.
The situation is not easy because even if we plant spring varieties, we could experience an important drop in temperature. At this point, I think that the experience that endorses the companies in the sector is the most important element and one that allows us to be European leaders.
With regard to the last three years, last year was good for exports, but the current one… is showing a drop in demand.
It is all pointing towards the fact that, although we are still in the middle of the match, we won’t reach last year’s export volume, 542,000 tonnes, which is the best figure reached during the past three years.
What can you highlight in terms of the different countries?
In addition to the low German consumption, it is worth mentioning that France has increased its iceberg purchases, as they are cheaper than endives, which have always been more traditional there. Italy, which purchases 73,660 t from us, is a great consumer and it acquires lettuces of calibre 9 and 10 by weight, particularly of the iceberg type as they themselves are important romaine producers. And the United Kingdom, although socially-speaking it is experiencing a difficult time, is a stable market in lettuce consumption, with annual programmes.