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Fewer vegetables grown in Estonia due to farm worker shortages

Vegetables.
Vegetables. Source: Kairit Leibold/ERR

Less and less vegetables are being grown in Estonia because farms do not have enough workers. As a result, even higher quantities of vegetables are now being imported from abroad than before.

In 2019, Estonian farmers prepared 2,035 hectares of land on which to grow vegetables. This year however, they have already halved that. The problem began during the coronavirus pandemic, when farm workers stopped coming to Estonia from abroad. The situation related to vegetable production has still not recovered.

According to Priit Põldma, lecturer at the Estonian University of Life Sciences (Maaülikool), who specializes in vegetable economics, domestically produced Estonian vegetables are becoming increasingly scarce. "People will still be able to eat (vegetables) as long as it is possible to import them from abroad," he said.

Taavi Õun, head of purchasing and logistics at Salvest, said that fewer vegetables are being grown in Estonia because there are not enough workers available to harvest large quantities.  

"Many people can and would like to grow (vegetables), but getting the harvest out of the ground, in the context of labor shortages, is difficult," he said.

Õun added, that for the time being, Salvest is having to buy cucumbers from Germany, rather than source them locally. As it is more expensive to import them from abroad, this also naturally has an impact on the price of the products.

"After all, when you import from abroad, you also have to add in the transport costs. There is a risk, but I wouldn't want to scare people off just yet, because if Estonian cucumbers start to come in nicely, then we'll still get our numbers. Vegetables are not really expensive products."

Põldma added, that another reason why farmers may also be reducing the amount of arable land dedicated to growing vegetables is because they are no longer able to use some of the crop protection products, they had previously employed. While these were effective, they were also harmful to the environment.

As the registration of more environmentally-friendly plant protection products has not yet been completed, pest and disease control is more difficult at the moment, Põldma explained.

Tarmo Tuvikene grows vegetables in Tartu County. He also said it has become more difficult to find workers in the countryside. Last year Tuvikene harvested 50 tonnes of cucumbers. This year however, he is only hoping for 30 tonnes. The weather is also likely to reduce this year's cucumber harvest, he added,

"Compared to last year, it seems that there will be less (cucumbers). The weather is not favorable for growing cucumbers. It has not been favorable so far," he said.

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Editor: Michael Cole

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