From Idared to Ligol, via Jonagold, Cortland and other varieties, Poland’s apple season is in full swing again.
Fruit-growers expect a record harvest this year, amounting to as much as 5 million tonnes of apples. Much of this will go abroad, from other countries in Europe to China.
Poland is the EU’s leading producer of apples, accounting for around one in four apples grown in the EU, followed by Italy, France and Germany, according to Eurostat. Apple orchards account for over half of the total fruit area in the country.
In the past, Russia was a leading destination for Polish apples. Many of these were of the Idared variety, a bright red apple and with the ability to keep well.
But when Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, the EU responded with trade sanctions. In turn, Moscow blocked the import of agricultural products from EU countries – including Polish apples.
As a result, apple exports from Poland plummeted by 19% between 2014 and 2015, according to Eurostat. Exporters catering to the Russian market were badly hit.
Poland has sought to offset this fall in apple exports by increasing domestic consumption. As part of the online initiative “Jedz jabłka na złość Putinowi” (Eat apples to annoy Putin), Polish celebrities posted figures of themselves eating apples on social media.
There were also efforts to channel Poland’s surplus of apples into cider, with fruit-growers seeing it as a strategic opportunity to develop new products.
Poland has also been eyeing new markets for its apples – including China, the world’s largest producer of the fruit. With Russia out of bounds, Polish sellers have come to see the country as a promised land for the fruits of their labour.
Over the past few years, there have been efforts to popularise Polish apples through campaigns like “Bicoloured apples from Europe”, launched by the Polish Association of Fruit and Vegetable Growers, which focused on China and the United Arab Emirates.
Exporters have emphasised Poland’s long tradition of growing apples, low use of chemicals and quality. “The advantage of Polish fruits is their process of growth and care, which apple-growers have been putting many special, deep emotions into for a millennium,” the Polish-Chinese Chamber of Industry and Commerce wrote in its website.
As this year’s apples are harvested, Polish fruit-growers are aware that much in the sector will depend on the situation in Chinese agriculture. If China produces fewer apples this year, Poland could fill the gap left in other countries’ markets with its own ones, they suggest.