The energy crisis cuts production in Europe and pulls the island tomato

Tomato plantation on the island of Gran Canaria. This year the season is looking good due to the energy crisis. / C7

Island producers plan to export some 50,000 tons, 10% more than in the previous campaign. Sales to the United Kingdom after 'Brexit' fall by 30%

Silvia Fernandez

The Canarian tomato will experience this year a
good campaign. The reason does not lie in the competitive improvement of this fruit and vegetable product, which has been suffering a decline in its production for 25 years and losing weight in the Canarian economy, but in a
external factor: the energy crisis in Europe as a result of the Russian gas cut.

Producers on the continent use
gas to heat their greenhouses and simulate the heat conditions that the plant needs to grow and produce during the winter. This year, however, the sharp increase in the price of gas and its high cost make production unfeasible, which would have to be sold at such an exorbitant price to cover the costs that the consumer would not buy it. Consequently, producers in countries such as the Netherlands have abandoned greenhouses this year, leaving that
hollow to the canary tomato.

Competition is tough in the European market

The product of the islands will not be the only one that will be in the markets of the continent this winter, since it will have to compete with the peninsular tomato and with that of Morocco, which does not stop growing in the EU. In the previous campaign the
Moroccan exports increased by 14% to the European Union (France alone accounts for 60% of Moroccan tomato shipments). Turkey's is also advancing strongly, growing by 16% in just one year.

Despite the strong competition and the difficulty of this market, in which the margins are low and most of the time in deficit, Canarian tomato producers foresee an increase in production and exports of between 5% and 15%, as long as nothing happens and the weather remains, according to sources from the
Provincial Federation of Associations of Exporters of Horticultural Products of Las Palmas (Fedex).

In total, a production of between
45,000 and 52,000 tons of tomato and cucumber on an area of ​​400 hectares.

“Right now the plants are at full capacity, much higher than usual at this time of year. If the conditions are maintained the figures will be good. If the campaign had to be completed before May, the planned amounts would be cut”, add sources from Fedex.

Sharp drop in sales to the UK after 'Brexit'

The seven Canarian producers that are still active -six in Gran Canaria and one in Tenerife (which is in the conversion phase towards other products with lower cost) will export this year
to the United Kingdom, where after 'Brexit' sales have fallen by around 30%. He will also send product to the center of Europe, with the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and Austria leading the way. In addition, the Canarian tomato has consolidated its presence in Norway, Sweden and Denmark and continues in Eastern Europe.

Fedex's concern, in addition to Moroccan competition, is the constant increase in costs, both in inputs and transport. In this sense, according to sources from Fedex and based on a study by the University of La Laguna, the cost of
producing a kilo of tomatoes costs around one euro while the sale prices, which have been stable for about 20 years, are around 0.80 or 0.90 euros. "Sometimes we exceed the peak of the euro or even more, but in the average of the campaign the price is usually below it, with which its production is in deficit," indicate sources from Fedex. This situation is what has forced most of the producers to leave the field and the seven that remain,
plan its reconversion and diversification.

Travel by boat and by truck to reach the heart of Europe

Since Canarian tomato producers stopped chartering refrigerated ships in 2018 to bring the product to European markets, due to the high cost, it tried its luck on the lines of the MSC shipping company.

However, the delays that occurred on the routes and that caused the tomato to not arrive in optimal conditions led the producers to hire drivers and transport the merchandise by boat to the peninsula and then by road.

As sources from the Provincial Federation of Associations of Exporters of Horticultural Products of Las Palmas (Fedex) explain, for two years shipments by trailers (trucks) have increased “exponentially” to the detriment of MSC lines.

The tomato travels on the lines between the Canary Islands and Cádiz or Huelva, and even with Alicante. Once unloaded, the trucks continue their route to the United Kingdom (London) and the Netherlands (Rotterdam). This transport, according to Fedex, has the advantage that within 48 to 52 hours they reach their destination. Similarly, the producers also abandoned the facilities they had rented in the British port of Southampton; instead, they moved operations and leased premises at London Gateway. From Fedex, the quality of the products from the Canary Islands that are exported stands out, since biological control techniques are used, with integrated production and with the use, although to a lesser extent, of hydroponics and recirculation. «The use of these techniques renounces the use of phytosanitary products in a very important way, replacing it with natural and environmentally friendly resources and regulatory mechanisms. The result is that the plants grow more vigorously, the fruits are tastier and the working environment is healthier and more sustainable”, indicate sources from Fedex.