In a salad, on their toast in the morning, or in a dish: the Swedes eat tomatoes in summer and winter. As soon as the fine weather returns, local production, in greenhouses, covers 30% of needs. In winter, 97% of tomatoes are imported, mainly from the Netherlands, but also from Spain or Morocco. The remaining 3% – around 30 tonnes per week – come from the greenhouses of the company Nordic Greens, in Trelleborg, in the south of the country.
But this winter, for the first time since 2014, consumers will have to do without it. Once the last summer tomatoes have been picked, at the end of October, the greenhouses will be emptied and cleaned thoroughly, before production resumes in the spring. The reason: the cost of electricity, which is too high to ensure the profitability of a winter crop.
Next to the greenhouses, two large wood-fired boilers produce the energy needed to heat the buildings with an area equivalent to twenty-eight football fields. But when the sun only rises at 8:30 a.m. and sets at 3:45 p.m. in December, daylight is not enough to grow tomatoes. It is then necessary to light the hundreds of LED lamps hung on the glass ceilings.
However, it is not only the price of electricity that has increased: the inflation also concerns seeds, plants and fertilizers. The cost of packaging has jumped 50% in recent months. That of urea, used for the treatment of nitrogen oxide in boiler chimneys, has passed “from 2 to 11 crowns [de 0,18 à 1,01 euros] the kilo ». Site manager Mindaugas Krasauskas, 43, draws a graph on a whiteboard. Born in Lithuania, he started here as a seasonal worker some twenty years ago.
Inflation also concerns seeds, plants and fertilizers
Between April and October, he explains, the greenhouses consume 300 MWh of electricity per month. In winter, the needs are multiplied by four, to reach 1,200 MWh. Until 2021, Nordic Greens paid around 60 crown cents per kWh, or 1 million crowns per year. “Then the prices started to fluctuate, climbing up to 2.50 crowns. Since August, we have gone to 3.60 crowns on average, with peaks at 5-6 crowns, on certain days, ten times more than what we paid before 2021.
At this level, growing tomatoes in winter no longer has any interest, 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 go up. If we pass the costs on to the customers, they will buy something else. »
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Source: Le Monde