Local fruit and vegetables as losers

A piece of red pepper for 1.39 euros. A kilo of tomatoes for 3.99 euros. A kilo of apricots for 4.16 euros. Not organic, but from Austria. Supermarket prices that will probably make even high-income earners swallow. The result: local goods stay on the shelves, while foreign goods end up in the shopping cart. At least that is the criticism of Austrian farmers.

In fact, it says in a broadcast from the trade association on Tuesday: “Two-thirds of consumers are aware of how much they spend on their daily shopping and are increasingly turning to cheaper products.” The farmers’ association also points out to ORF.at that consumers and consumers would increasingly buy cheap groceries.

APA/Helmut Fohringer

Marchfeld in Lower Austria is considered the center of asparagus – but will it find enough buyers?

Local farmers under pressure

In addition to the lower demand, local fruit and vegetable farmers are already struggling with changing climatic conditions and increased costs. Be it with regard to the higher prices for production such as energy and fertilizers or the payment of harvest workers.

Although part of the costs would be cushioned by the Ministry of Agriculture’s supply security package in the amount of 110 million euros, the tenor was that the prices of the foreign competition could not be kept up. The best example: asparagus.

Asparagus at “dumping prices”

Fresh asparagus from Spain or South America is sold on the shelves at dumping prices – “far below the domestic production costs” – criticizes the farmers’ association. According to Marchfeld asparagus chairman Werner Magoschitz, 50 percent of the demand in Austria is now imported, which means that local farmers are unable to sell around a third of their goods.

“While vegetables from distant countries are carted to Austria with high CO2 emissions and sold at dumping prices here, local farmers are left with the fruits of their hard work,” said Magoschitz in a broadcast on Tuesday. The high wage level compared to the competing neighboring countries, high quality and environmental standards and a smaller harvest in 2022 due to the weather would present the local asparagus farmers with “existential challenges” at the end of the season.

asparagus harvest

APA/Harald Schneider

Due to the high costs, not least for the harvest, local asparagus is becoming a luxury for many

Appeal: priority for regional food

And further: The large proportion of imports destroys “established structures and endangers the security of supply in the long term,” says Magoschitz. He sees the trade as having a responsibility to offer customers more asparagus from Austrian production. The President of the Farmers’ Union and spokesman for agriculture, Georg Strasser, also says: “It needs a clear commitment on the part of the retail chains to give priority to regional food over imported goods.”

Support for the position of the farmers comes from Minister of Agriculture Totschnig, who appeals to the food retail trade and to more “regional solidarity”: “Especially in times like these, when self-sufficiency with food is more important than ever, it must be our goal to to strengthen regional production.”

If you buy regionally, you get the best quality, strengthen family farms, protect the environment through shorter transport routes, and the added value stays in the country. “But this cycle is only possible if food retailers increasingly offer regional products so that consumers can make their purchasing decisions,” Totschnig told ORF.at.

Trade: 50 percent fruit and vegetables from Austria

When ORF.at. asked the trade association (HV), it said that the allegations by the Marchfeldspargel association could not be understood. “Our dealers buy Austrian goods wherever possible,” says HV Managing Director Rainer Will. Due to the demand before the start of the season, asparagus will be imported, for example from Peru, until the harvest starts in Austria. 47 percent of the demand could be covered with local asparagus.

In general, the Austrian share in the food trade for fruit and vegetables is around 50 percent on an annual average, and in the summer months it is even over 75 percent, according to the HV. It is also about offering “the right product for every wallet”. In order to support a purchase decision in favor of regional food, however, “quick purchasing power stabilization measures” are required.

Vegetables at the market

ORF/Georg Hummer

Less money in the purse, less local fruit and vegetables in the shopping cart and, as a result, probably less on the shelves

Fresh fruit and vegetables as a luxury?

Most recently, the “Falter” reported in detail on the problems of local fruit and vegetable farmers selling their goods. The article reads, for example, that strawberries, lettuce and asparagus are rotting in the field this year because there are no buyers. “The local farmers should only step in as a stopgap,” it says. All four major chains – Spar, Rewe, Hofer and Lidl – denied the allegations against the “Falter”. Wherever possible, priority would be given to Austrian products.

But one thing is clear: what can also be sold will be bought. But does that mean that fresh fruit and vegetables from Austria are becoming “luxury goods”, asks “Falter”. The chairman of the Styrian commercial fruit farmers, Manfred Kohlfürst, is quoted here. He says: “My parents had to spend far more of their income on groceries than we did. Our children will have to do it again.”

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