Are Producer Organisations key to the future of the fruit and veg sector?

There appears to be an increasing push at European level for fruit and vegetable growers to establish Producer Organisations.

The European fruit and vegetable industry was one of the worst hit sectors when Russia introduced its indefinite embargo on European products.

Poland was said to be worst affected, as the country had previously supplied over 700,000t of apples to the Kremlin-controlled nation prior to the introduction on the ban.

However, despite the contracting of the market in recent years, the European Commission estimates that the sector is worth close on €50 billion to the EU.

Spain, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands are all big players in this market, while Irish producers only account for a very tiny fraction, with just over 200 producers still in operation.

Through Producer Organisations, the European Commission is trying to increase both the buying and selling power of fruit and vegetable producers in Europe, while also increasing the levels and standard of production achieved.

Under current legislation, a group of growers or a Producer Organisation can apply for funding of 4.1-4.6% of their turnover from joint state and European funded schemes.

The funding, which is available in some Member States, is partially allocated under Pillar II of CAP, and in order to draw down this funding the Producer Organisations must meet the minimum standards set out in their Member State.

Furthermore, it already appears to be working as fruit and vegetables supplied by Producer Organisations accounted for 50% of all EU fruit and vegetable production in 2015 (1,700 groups).

Speaking at the European Parliament this week, the Commissioner for Agriculture, Phil Hogan, outlined his plans for the fruit and vegetable sector under the proposed changes to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) through the Omnibus Regulation.

“I propose to allow Member States with a low degree of organisation of producers in the fruit and vegetable sectors to increase support for Producer Organisations, without the necessity of submitting a proposal to the Commission.

“I propose to introduce the coaching of Producer Organisations at a fully financed level,” he said.

Commissioner Hogan added that this coaching would benefit both the newly created and experienced Producer Organisations in terms of efficiency.