In this interview with the trade journal “Yahidnyk,” the Ukrainian representative of Fresh Forward Holding BV Anton Dovhanyuk talks about the current situation in Ukraine, the links between the Dutch and Ukrainian fruit and berry sector, and possibilities for further beneficial cooperation.
What has changed in the relationship between Ukraine and Dutch agribusinesses during the war in Ukraine?
The fruit and berry sector has changed a lot in the last few months. Both countries are currently experiencing significant losses. I have worked in the horticultural sector for a long time, and I see, for example, the decrease in sales of certified planting material from the Netherlands to Ukraine. A number of potential projects are suspended now.
Due to military activities and uncertainty about the future situation on the market, Ukrainian strawberry nurseries now grow fewer plants and fewer Dutch varieties. The high exchange rate and expensive logistics have a negative impact on the exports of seedlings to Ukraine. It became more challenging to manage the propagation licenses of the varieties, PVR enforcement, etc.
At the same time, Dutch companies help their Ukrainian partners as much as possible. For example, SVZ International BV helps its Ukrainian partners with the export of frozen berries. Dutch breeders don’t require payment of royalties for the period of martial law, and other companies employ Ukrainian refuges for seasonal work, etc.
The Dutch horticultural sector is well-known for its innovations. Despite military actions that negatively affect the world economy, are there any projects running in Ukraine at the moment? If so, what are they?
Of course, Dutch producers and processors continue to work on new products and explore new markets. Dutch breeders proceed with the registration of new varieties in Ukraine and run trials here. Due to the global energy crisis and rising prices on crop protection and fertilizers, more attention is now paid to resistant varieties that require fewer applications of synthetic pesticides.
A good example is the activities of the company Solynta. Despite the current difficulties in importing their true potato seeds into Ukraine, they succeeded in setting up trials of two hybrid potato varieties in the Vinnytsia region. This type of seed potato production can substantially reduce delivery costs and simplify phytosanitary control in the future.
What Ukrainian products are currently interesting for the Dutch business? What are the most promising Dutch products for Ukraine?
Ukrainian berries, fresh and frozen, are usually in high demand in the EU. Strawberry, raspberry, cherries, currants, wild berries like rosehips, elderberries, and wild blueberries are always interesting for Dutch processors and traders. This season will be very challenging for the wild berries segment since, in the regions of Ukraine which were under occupation or where the military actions took place, there is a restriction on visiting forests due to the mining and a considerable number of unexploded shells. Along with conventional products, there is a steady interest in organic berries. According to Rabobank, the global organic market and Ukrainian share in it is growing from year to year. This Dutch bank, by the way, showed great support to Ukrainian refugees in the Netherlands by opening free bank accounts and not charging any fees for transactions to Ukraine by private individuals. Some Dutch businesses that operate in Central and Eastern Europe offer Ukrainian refugees seasonal jobs in berry production and processing companies.
Dutch agro-consultancy has great potential for development in Ukraine. Companies like Delphy can successfully provide advisory services to local farmers, especially those who export their products to international markets. The niche of fruit and berry consultancy is quite open in Ukraine.
Do you think the Dutch agribusiness will be willing to invest in Ukraine after the war?
Ukraine has great potential, but somebody can be scared to have a strong competitor in Eastern Europe. For example, we hope that the Dutch partners will support the idea of setting up a joint strawberry nursery. Due to the war in Ukraine, almost all certified nurseries are either not working or have temporarily suspended their activities. Therefore, in the future, the lack of quality strawberry planting material may lead to a reduction in the volumes and quality of berries in Ukraine. This will definitely lead to the price increase for 1 class berries. This situation will be quite sensitive for European processors, including Dutch ones, who count on relatively cheap Ukrainian berries to produce purees, juice concentrates, and fruit preps for yogurts and ice cream. So we hope some Dutch companies will like this idea and invest in the strawberry propagation business.
You mentioned new varieties that Fresh Forward BV is bringing to market. What exactly are these varieties?
The Fresh Forward breeding program has many interesting varieties. One of the most promising for Ukrainian climate and market are strawberry variety Twist and apple variety Natyra.
TWIST is similar to early season varieties like “Allegro” and “Rumba,” which are already popular on the Ukrainian market. Twist starts to crop much earlier than other varieties, and it has a good yield and conical berries of bright red color with an excellent taste. The variety shows a high Brix level throughout the season. Also, the calyx takes off easily, which should be interesting to Ukrainian farmers who export IQF strawberries.
NATYRA is a trademark of the SQ159 apple variety, which is allowed to be grown only as an organic apple. The variety has a natural resistance to scab, excellent taste, and long shelf life. As a resistant variety, it requires significantly fewer sprayings against diseases throughout the whole season. This makes the variety very sustainable for the organic market.
What other topics are now relevant for Dutch-Ukrainian cooperation in this sector?
Apart from trade and consultancy, the Dutch companies are constantly working on bringing the Ukrainian horticultural sector to European standards. Harmonized standards and values will facilitate the strengthening of cooperation between Ukraine and the EU. Dutch breeders like Fresh Forward, additionally to marketing and enforcement of their varieties in Ukraine, also participate in different local events and publish articles that explain to Ukrainian partners about plant variety rights, the negative impact of illegal propagation, world practice of paying royalty as a pre-condition of getting advanced varieties to the country, contribution of breeding programs to global food security, etc.
The Russian-Ukrainian war also disturbed Dutch-Russian relations. After the Russian aggression, most of the Dutch nurseries and breeding companies stopped or suspended their projects in Russia. It was a difficult decision because of a negative economic effect on the Dutch agribusiness, but this is a price we all pay to stop the war and to make our world safe. Ukrainian colleagues appreciate this decision as this is a very sensitive issue here.
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