Eight months have passed since Russian president Vladimir Putin banned imports of food from the West. While Putin’s talks with Greek PM Alexis Tsipras have this week raised hopes in some quarters that - for one country at least - the embargo might be lifted, suppliers across Europe are counting the cost of the year-long ban.
The loss of the Russian market - which accounted for 5% of total EU fruit production by value and 2% of vegetable production - has led to stockpiling of many fruits and vegetables, and pushed down prices.
The average UK price for apples, for example, has fallen from 81p per kg in April 2014 to 72p at the start of this month [Mintec]. Wholesale UK pear prices are down 60% year on year on stronger availability of domestic supplies and predictions EU exports will be a third lower than last year. Similarly, strong supply of UK onions has pushed the price down 50% year on year. European growers are facing similar drops, with Spanish pears down 30% and EU onions down almost 40%.
The ban has made a tough market harder, says British Growers Association CEO Jack Ward, as it followed a “very good” growing year across Europe in 2014, a strengthening pound and increased competition in the retail sector.
Scottish fishermen had been expecting strong mackerel exports to Russia ahead of the ban but have seen volumes to the country slump 7.9% year on year, according to Seafish. This has been mitigated by soaring sales to China and Nigeria driving a 30% hike in total mackerel exports to £129.7m in 2014, but prices are now falling in China and, with the new mackerel season under way, the industry is seeking markets for its fish.
The slump in pork prices has also been driven by the ban, as Russia accounted for a quarter of European exports in 2013, or 1.6 million tonnes.