The European fruit and vegetable sector is expressing concerns about its future with the combined effects of the Covid-19 crisis and the announcements made in the Farm to Fork Strategy.

While the sector is recording ever-increasing production costs and losses for certain products such as tomatoes, vegetables and stone fruits, professionals in the sector are questioning their capacity to thrive with the targets announced by the European Commission.

For the fruit and vegetable growers and cooperatives meeting in the COPA-COGECA Working Group this week, the situation is said to be "bitter".

While certain categories of fruit and vegetables witness an increase in prices during the pandemic, growers have not in fact been able to benefit from this price increase, which was necessary for the medium-term economic viability of their farms, COPA-COGECA said.

This was a result of the increase of production costs due to various restrictions linked to the Covid-19 pandemic.

'Major challenges still remain'

Major challenges still remain for the sector, mainly due to the lack of access to seasonal workers due to Covid-19 restrictions, the working group said.

At the same time, weather conditions have not been favourable, leaving producers with a lack of solutions to control certain pests and diseases and facing irrigation restrictions in key regions.

Against this background, Luc Vanoirbeek, chairman of the Working party on Fruit and Vegetables, said:

"We are already playing with the limits in certain production, like tomatoes, vegetables and stone fruits. It would take little today for the situation to become critical for growers.

This is why the announced 50% target for reducing the use of plant protection products in the Farm to Fork Strategy really worries us. It will generate additional costs for sure.

"As our margins are already being squeezed very tight, I don't see how this could be done without an increase in prices of European fruit and vegetables for end consumers.

"It's a simple fact but a reality that seems to be on the agenda of a few EU key decision makers."

Another important point of concern for the sector is the prospect of a 'no-deal' with UK.

Vanoirbeek said: "We will be in the front line if the negotiations break down, which is why the European Commission needs to plan crisis management measures in order to avoid a 'Brovid' effect, as we can fear cumulative effects in the EU."