Dreaming of Walnuts in Hungary (Magyarország)

Dreaming of Walnuts in Hungary (Magyarország)

A remarkable journey to make a fathers dream a successful reality...

In this blog article we put the spotlight on the Hungarian walnut, the health benefits, the history, the struggles of late within the industry and how one Hungarian walnut grower continues the family dream, setting higher standards for the future.

Let’s begin this journey by looking at why walnuts are so good and healthy for us. Then, we can wind the clock back on history before fast forwarding to present day…

So... Why are Walnuts so good and healthy?

Eating plant-based protein sources, rather than meat and dairy, has been recommended as a way of eating that is both beneficial for our health and more sustainable for our planet. Leading Dietitian Helen Bond comments that nuts are increasingly important for people who are attempting to make the switch to a more plant-based diet and are particularly useful for vegetarians and vegans as they provide some of the nutrients present in meat and fish, like iron and zinc (see our Helen Bond nut health article).

When it comes to walnuts, theses nuts are unique among nuts as they are the only tree nut significantly high in Omega-3 with 2.7 grams of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) per 30 gram serving and have the highest amounts of polyunsaturated (good-healthy) fat. A handful of walnuts (30 grams) can officially claim to support the elasticity of blood vessels (as reported by EFAS – the European Food Safety Authority), helping to keep the cardiovascular system healthy.

So, walnuts, with their numerous health benefits and versatility in our food consumption, really are a nut worth maintaining in your diet.

A rich history for Hungarian walnuts

Persian walnut growing has a long-term tradition in Hungary. The walnut breeding started with the domestication of French varieties propagated by seeds in the 1910s, which was not regarded as successful. From the 1950s the Hungarian breeding research used selections from the local population, cross breeding, and back crosses as breeding methods. (Read more here)

One of the most grown genotypes derived from this mixed population was ‘Esterhazy II’, which comprised the Hungarian walnut industry in the early years. The ‘Esterhazy II’ was ideal for small-scale cultivation and with its early budbreak making it possible to grow successfully on fruit sites, where the table grapes and apricot were produced. (Read more here)

Tough trading in the past years

From reviewing the research and importer figures we can report that in 2019, Hungary sold 1,767 tonnes of walnuts, which was a reduction of -6.5% compared to 2018. The highest return markets for Hungarian walnuts (by kilogram) were exports to Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Belgium.

In 2020, Hungary shipped 786 tonnes of walnuts: another huge decrease (Selina Wamucii). 

Today’s Hungarian Walnut Farmers do face challenges…

In the past two years, more and more buyers in the EU have switched from Eastern European to Chilean product, as a result Hungary barely records any exports to EU countries. Coupled with the fact that a large part of the Hungarian crop is destined for its own domestic market (Mundus Agri).

The export market prices for Hungarian product has also declined in recent times. Before 2019, a kilo of walnuts would sell for US $4.66 in 2017 and US $4.34 in 2018. In 2019 the export price changed to US $3.51 per kilo, a decrease of -19.1%. In 2022, the approximate price range for Hungary Walnuts (in Debrecen and Budapest) is between US $ 3.51 and US $ 4.34 per kilogram or between US$ 1.59 and US$ 1.97 per pound(lb). (Selina Wamucii).

Hungary’s position in the market has weakened, and their exports have dramatically decreased, with recent figures indicting that shelled walnut exports dropped from 1,500 US tons (1361 tonnes) to less than 500 US tons (454 tonnes) each year.

A heart warming story of hope for the future

Nicole Brazda is a Hungarian walnut farmer and biologist from Denise and Sandy Organic Walnuts, known as ‘Bio Dio’, who are organic producers of walnuts. Bio Dio is based on the north-western border of Hungary and Austria near a town called Osli.

Nicole tells of their incredible family story…

In 1970, Nicole’s parents fled from Hungary to Germany during the Cold War. Following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, they returned to Hungary. Nicole and her father went on a trip through France to learn about growing walnuts.

 “During this trip I learned that already for a long time he had been dreaming of planting walnut trees for his children and grandchildren. The walnut is the queen of nuts, a royal fruit (Juglans regia). But a Hungarian saying goes: ‘you don’t plant a walnut tree just for yourself’. Only after 15 long years of hard work and relatively low yields, the trees bear their full harvest. We started planting our orchard which now counts 8,000 trees. Many trials and errors were necessary to find the best walnut variety for our piece of land, that also bears the most aromatic fruits.” – Nicole

Climate change has been a challenge that all farmers are beginning to face. Young walnut trees require 60-80 litres of water each week, while grown trees are watered with roughly 100 l per week (Bio Dio Walnuts). Droughts and water shortages caused by climate change can cause difficulties, and these also impact the harvest times. This impact on Hungarian harvest time means that Hungarian farmers lose a previously held advantage of producing walnuts early in the season, before other competitors.” (Tridge)

Nicole comments, that their trees of the Alsószentiványi 117 and Milotai 10 types are very resistant varieties adapted to the Hungarian climate with a large, aromatic fruit. This year their harvest will start earlier in mid-September and could be finished and packed a month later (mid-October). 

Nicole talks about the wider challenges and the local demands to be able to successfully harvest walnuts in Hungary…

“In 2018/2019 we first experienced the problems caused by the walnut fruit fly Rhagoletis completa (a species of tephritid in the genus Rhagoletis), which we believe originated from North America. In order to keep the damage to our crop small, we monitored the natural development and spread of the fly on our plantation and use a certified organic ecological spray from Germany. This is an expensive controlling method, which conventional walnut producers in Hungary would not do, however it is important for us to help maintain both the quality and our organic agriculture credentials.

The rise of organic walnuts

The rise of organic walnuts is taking place. Nicole talks passionately about organic farming and how consumers are becoming more health conscious. She comments that the desire for supporting the organic way is building, which is hoped will support the future of the business.

To remain organic, they do not spray pesticides or chemicals, instead mulch the soil with cow dung and other natural manures. The grass in between trees is mown, wildflowers bloom and tree cuttings and leaves are composted, which produces a liquid that can be used as an organic plant protection and fertiliser. The Bio Dio farm was one of the first certified organic walnut plantations in the country and have carried the EU organic seal since 2006.

See the Bio Dio production show case video, which Nicole and team are proud to share to highlight how their production has operated in the recent years. Products have received numerous awards as a quality Hungarian organic product.

Bio Dio take part in the Crowd Farming schemes, designed to allow the consumer to buy directly from the farm door for home delivery. This is based on the seasonal harvest, so runs for limited amounts of time each year.

Direct boxes of 5kg of organic walnuts (in-shell), with 0.5 l of walnut oi

Bio Dio offer their organic walnuts direct to UK consumers, through a 5kg sustainable box method. The total price to ship a box to the UK (with 1 week delivery) is £76-77. This breaks down to a very reasonable £13-£14 per kg (about £6 per lbs) but also includes the complementing walnut oil (2 x 0.25l in a glass bottle). The Bio Dio supply for organic in-shell walnuts, cultivated with natural and environmentally friendly processes, is both a unique and competitive door-to-door service for UK consumers.

An added bonus is the longer shelf life of the in-shell product, estimated to be up to 12 months, whereas the shelled product is estimated at 3 months in the fridge. In-shell walnuts do continue to be a favourite for big retailers and specialist green grocers during the Christmas period, however figures do show that this seasonal tradition is reducing year-on-year.   

What does the future hold for the Hungarian walnut?

The numerous challenges that Hungarian walnuts face mean that a large part of the Hungarian walnut market will continue to be supplied to the domestic market. Chelmer Foods reported in May 2022 that the total acreage of Hungarian walnuts is about 9,000 hectares, which is the same as 2021. Although productive plantations are reported at about 5,000-6,000 hectares, with an annual yield of around 7,000 tonnes in an average year, while in a really good vintage it can reach 10,000 tonnes (Tridge).

The plants for the forthcoming season are developing well, so there should be a good crop in 2022, but incoming high energy prices and the challenging global market point to an almost entirely domestic Hungarian walnut market.

Conclusions

The Hungarian walnut market has struggled against rising energy bills (affects from the neighboring war), climate change induced issues, and big competitors with a greater exporting capacity. While the Hungarian crop size of 2022 is expected to be substantial, the Hungarian walnut industry is still a developing market. Data sources highlight that most of the forthcoming walnut harvest will continue to supply the domestic market, with very few exports.  The larger and well organised players in the walnut market, notable US-California, Chile and France within the EU, will continue to exert their influence and control.  

Hungarian trade associations, such as FruitVeb, together with wider funding support, can help guide and lead farmers to seek and develop export selling strategies.

A critical factor for Bio Dio and all Hungarian walnut farmers is crop yield: the tonnage of product available, whether that be supplied in-shell or shelled (cracked and ready to eat). Together with other local factors to collectively address, such as the monitoring and controlling of the insect pests and diseases, only then will farmers be able to competitively compete on quality, supply and price.

AGRIEU

Photos – supplied by Bio Dio – the Denise and Sandy Organic Walnut Farm

The 2022 Bio Dio harvest is expected to complete by Mid October. The sample board shows an fantastic extra light/light 90% product. Indications highlight that the crop will be larger than 2021.

For further details on the wholesale supply of the Bio Dio Organic Hungarian Walnuts (In-shell) up to 30 Tonnes (30,000 kg) or to purchase consumer boxes directly (5kg in-shell walnuts with 2 x 0.25l walnut oil) – please contact us:

AGRIEU

First Floor
85 Great Portland Street
London, W1W 7LT
UK

+44 (0)207 18 365 80
office@agrieu.com

References

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