Polish strawberries: High prices for low quality

The price of strawberries this year is high  given their low quality. At the moment, one kilogram of strawberries costs 4 zloty, whereas the price was only 2 zloty last year, reported Gazeta Wyborcza.
This is a direct result of the weather conditions in Poland. The frost damaged the first harvest, which usually reaps the nicest fruits. Soon after the frost, the temperature rose quickly, causing the buds to ripen before reaching maturity.
To add to the problem, over the last few weeks, strawberry plantations have been drenched by heavy rains, causing the fruit to putrefy, the newspaper reported. Only 30 percent of the strawberry crop harvested this year will be suitable for freezing, although Poland produces large quantities of the product, and is the EUs? largest producer and exporter of industrial stawberries.
?A good jam must be made up of at least 25 percent Polish fruits,? producers say. The famous variety, Zenga-Zengana, gives a unique taste and color to the jams, but is more expensive than Chinese or Moroccan strawberries, for example. Due to the high price, Zenga-Zengana is added only as a taste enhancer for jams produced from cheaper varieties
The labor shortage in Poland is the real reason for the small harvest this year, some say.
?The price is wonderful, but this means nothing if there is no one to pick the fruits,? a planter from northern Poland, who employed 2,000 people at his 100-hectare plantation last year, told Gazeta Wyborcza. This year, he only managed to employ 300 workers.
Polish seasonal workers have left for Germany, Spain, Ireland, or Italy where they are better paid than in Poland. There, for collecting one kilogram of strawberries, planters pay 1.2-1.5  zloty. Last year, the average amount paid in Poland was 0.6-0.8 zloty.
To solve this problem, Polish planters may employ immigrants from Ukraine. The Ministery of Agriculture has even issued a disposition officially permitting the employment of Ukrainian workers. However, Polish farmers complained that, in reality, this is not possible.
?First, we have ot send an invitation for each person, which costs 9 zloty. Then,  we need to guarantee an apartment and meals for them, and we have to register these people in Poland. Even if we follow all of these procedures, in the end, they are turned back at the border, because everyone needs to have at least 7 euro for each day of his/her stay. And they don?t have this money, ? Mariola Sowinska said, owner of a 60-hectare plantation in Lublin Voivodeship, a province in eastern Poland. Last season, she had work for 1,000 people.  This year, she had only 40 to 80 people to harvest the fruits.
?The situation is tragic. I look at the plantation with great regret. Almost 70 percent of the strawberries will stay on the bushes because there is no one to collect them,? she added.
?All of us we will pay for this next year,? said Andrzej Gajowniczak from Real S.A., one of the biggest strawberry-processing plants in Poland. There will simply be so many fruit plants that prices will fall below manufacturing costs,? Gajowniczak added. 
A similar situation transpired in 2002, when the price of one kilogram of strawberries rose to 5 zloty. The next season, the price fell to 2 zloty per 1 kilogram.
In 2007, the situation will likely be even more difficult as Chinese strawberries will appear on the market.
Western plant processing has more often and more emphatically been saying that the Chinese Zenga-Zengana is becoming more and more tasty.
In Mariola Sowinska?s opinion, they have already boosted strawberry plant production and this will flood the market in 2008. As a result, it is predicted that the price of strawberries in Poland will fall to 1.2 zloty per kilogram.

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