02 August 2006

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Business Today

Europe’s heatwave is Maltese farmers’ blessing

Karl Schembri

Europe’s nightmarish heatwave is striking down crops particularly in the east but this is turning out to be positive for Maltese farmers who are fetching better prices for their produce.
High temperatures are making vegetables mature faster than farmers can pick and package them, with crops in Poland and Hungary expected to give below 40 per cent normal yields, according to the Association of European Fruit and Vegetable Processing Industries, given the short picking season forced by the very hot weather. In the UK, farmers forecast price rises and shortages as the extreme weather bites into their harvests, while the spectre of forest fires adds to farmers’ concerns.
But in Malta, the effect on farmers has been positive as fewer imports have spiralled sales of Maltese products, for which they have also secured good prices.
“The overall effect of the weather on Maltese farmers was positive,” said Peter Axisa, the Chairman of the newly set up Ta’ Qali Producers’ Group. “Everything is getting a reasonable price on the market.”
According to the Gudja airport Met Office, daytime temperatures last month averaged 31.5 degrees Celsius – slightly warmer than average – but nights were much warmer at around 22.5 degrees.

“This is quite unusual as only on 10 other years, in the Meteorological Office’s 84 year history, were July nights warmer, three of these in the past 20 years,” the office said yesterday.
Axisa said that while on the local market things are positive, it would be too short sighted to expect to be able to export produce overnight to make up for Europe’s dwindling supplies.
“From experience, you have to plan a year ahead, or at least a season ahead, have good contacts and sign contracts in advance, so I believe it would be short-sighted to indulge in haphazard exports,” Axisa said. “Having said that the situation can be used to make new inroads, as it is ultimately our wish to export our produce and market it abroad.”
Axisa said his group will keep working to establish more niche markets abroad.
“We’re working to export olive oil and potatoes to Belgium, as well as some preserved products from a group of Mgarr farmers, but everything is still at an initial stage,” Axisa said. The Producers’ Group was in fact set up to market Maltese produce and ensure that it is of international standards.

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