1664811463 Sweden forced to stop production of winter tomatoes

Sweden forced to stop production of winter tomatoes

Tomatoes in greenhouses in Nybyn (Sweden), 2012. Tomatoes in greenhouses in Nybyn (Sweden), 2012. JONATHAN NACKSTRAND / AFP

In a salad, on toast in the morning or in a dish: Swedes eat tomatoes in both summer and winter. As soon as the nice weather returns, local production in greenhouses covers 30% of the demand. In winter, 97% of the tomatoes are imported, mainly from the Netherlands, but also from Spain or Morocco. The remaining 3% – around 30 tonnes per week – comes from Nordic Greens’ greenhouses in Trelleborg in the south of the country.

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But this winter, consumers have to do without it for the first time since 2014. After harvesting the last summer tomatoes at the end of October, the greenhouses are emptied and thoroughly cleaned before production resumes in spring. The reason: the electricity costs are too high to ensure the profitability of a winter harvest.

Next to the greenhouses, two large wood-burning boilers generate the energy needed to heat the buildings, which have an area of ​​28 football pitches. But if the sun does not rise until 8:30 a.m. and sets at 3:45 p.m. in December, there is not enough daylight to grow tomatoes. Then the hundreds of LED lamps hanging from the glass ceilings have to be lit.

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But not only the price of electricity has risen: inflation also affects seeds, plants and fertilizers. Packaging costs have increased by 50% in the last few months. That of urea, used to treat nitrogen oxides in boiler chimneys, rose “from 2 to 11 crowns [de 0,18 à 1,01 euros] the kilogram”. Site manager Mindaugas Krasauskas, 43, draws a graphic on a whiteboard. Born in Lithuania, he started here around twenty years ago as a seasonal worker.

Inflation also affects seeds, plants and fertilizers

Between April and October, he explains, the greenhouses consume 300 MWh of electricity per month. In winter, demand quadruples to 1,200 MWh. Until 2021, the Nordic Greens paid around 60 kronor cents per kWh, or 1 million kronor a year. “Then the prices started to fluctuate and went up to 2.50 crowns. Since August we have increased to 3.60 kroner on average, with peaks at 5-6 kroner on certain days, ten times more than what we were paying before 2021.

At this level, growing tomatoes in winter is no longer interesting, assures Mr. Krasauskas. Because if customers are willing to pay a little more for local products, there are limits: “Tomatoes are not like milk or meat, which consumers will continue to buy even if prices rise. If we pass the cost on to customers, they buy something else. »

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