Report: Poland, Europe's orchard
Poland is the largest producer of apples within the European Union. Travel tales.
The first leg of our journey to the Kingdom of the Polish apple, Skierniewice, right at the heart of the country. This small town of 50,000 inhabitants is well known partly for its pomology research institute, founded in 1951 and independent from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. Its mission is to apply scientific work carried out, particularly in the pomology department, to the actual land itself.
Non-strategic cultivation for a Communist regime
The professor, Augustyn Mika, an apple specialist, talks to us. He immediately displays the the full glory:"Polish apple production is the largest within Europe", ahead of Italy and France. He provides us with some statistics: 2.5 million tons per year, equal to 80% of the country's fruit production, 170,000 hectares are dedicated to apple cultivation...the statistics are astounding. In order to make sense of them, we must reflect on Poland's recent history.
At the time of Communist rule, some cultivations were considered strategic, such as wheat, grains and potatoes. The State fixed the price at a very low rate. For other produce, not considered important to the regime, the prices were not fixed. This is the situation the apple found itself in and it explains why many farmers chose to pursue this sector, free from the constraints of the State.
Additionally, the authorities needed to incorporate other currencies."We have never exported many dessert apples to the West. Quite differently, lots of apple juice was exported to Germany", states Professor Mika.
Before moving on to the next part of our Polish voyage, Professor Mika gives us some practical advice on growing our own orchard. First pointer: location, preferably high up for good sun exposure and to avoid winter frost.
You must then purchase some grafts, available from a nursery. Augustyn Mika recommends purchasing them a year in advance in order to be sure to obtain the variety of apple desired. The role of nurserymen does not simply involve selling grafts, but also, growing new varieties which consumers can try. The taste, color, resistance to the climate...are all tested.
To finish up, the professor reminds us that Poland is an extremely arid country, with annual rain averaging 500 millimeters, whereas annual rainfall in France exceeds 800 millimeters. The reasoning behind the importance of a high-quality irrigation system.
By car we head west towards the town of Kalisz where we meet those in charge of EKO-WITAMINA, one of the most significant apple producer groups in the region. 90% of their produce is sold under their own brand name, primarily in Poland, although they have some clients in the East. At the helm, two brothers who transformed an existing orchard into an industry. A hi-tech industry, I am pleased to add.
Established in May 2010, the sorting system is the most modern in the country and can manage up to 8 tons per hour. Made up of an ingenious arrangement of channels, the apples are weighed, measured and photographed from all angles (8 photos of each piece of fruit are taken). The quality control manger at EKO-WITAMINA explains that, thanks to this completely automated system,"the operator is able to sort apples by weight, size and color". With a single click, all the red apples, and only the red apples, are gathered and packaged.
Those who are not due to be delivered are stocked in cool rooms (1.5 degrees), within a constantly monitored environment (1% oxygen, 2% carbon monoxide). Here, in Kalisz, the warehouses store 4,000 tons of apples, which does not include the additional 6,000 tons preserved in other locations within the country.
Everything is surveilled, the only risk being"climatic hazards". An example being the floods which hit Poland in 2010 and which significantly impacted upon production.
FELCO, a partner of choice
Here, as has been the case for 20 years, only FELCO pruning shears are used."They are professional tools. We use nearly all the model types, from the smallest to the largest, mainly the one-handed varieties", state those in charge. This serves to confirm the statement made by Mr. Otwiaska who runs Euroflora, the company which imports FELCO into Poland:"FELCO holds 90% of the Polish one-handed pruning shear market". Just the day before, Augustyn Mika told us that he appreciated the"high-quality and long-lasting"Swiss pruning shears.