Belgium is one of Europe’s smaller countries in terms of land area, but its ports make it an important hub for the continent’s fruit and vegetable imports and exports.
For example, exotic fruit accounts for almost 70 per cent of the country’s fruit exports, despite not having the right climate to grow any such products itself. In fact, many exotics reach the EU exclusively via Belgium. In contrast, citrus and stonefruit imports remain mostly on the Belgian market. Vegetable import volumes are significantly lower than for fruit, and are dominated by carrots, onions, beans and peas. The latter two products are raw material for Belgium’s dynamic frozen vegetable industry. Beans and peas in particular have only a small share of the fresh market, but are mostly grown under contract for processors. The contracted surface is not only located in Belgium, but also in the Netherlands or Germany, which results in corresponding imports.
In terms of production, Belgium ranks 11th in the EU for both fruit and vegetables. Fruit production is concentrated on pears and apples. In 2017, there were massive weather-related cutbacks, especially for apples. This was followed by a record harvest in 2018. Last year, the apple and pear harvest was slightly down, but still above average. Apple production is dominated by the varieties Jonagold and Jonagored, while the leading pear variety is Conference. Pear production is strongly geared towards export. After exotics, pears are the fruit that Belgium exports in the largest volume.
Strawberries are mainly produced in greenhouses, and fluctuations in harvest size from year to year are small as a result. Vegetable production in Belgium is widespread and the position of other vegetables is therefore quite large. Tomatoes, leeks and carrots are the three vegetables produced in the biggest quantities. Considered the cradle of chicory production, Belgium is also one of Europe’s largest producers of the vegetable (known locally as witlof), together with France and the Netherlands, and it is also a major consumer. Protected production of lettuce and speciality salads as well as fruit vegetables such as cucumbers, peppers and courgettes is also very prominent in Belgium. The produce itself is largely marketed via auctions.
According to the Association of Belgian Horticultural Cooperatives (VBT), in 2018 its associated members sold fruit and vegetables worth €933.5m. Of this, 66 per cent was vegetables and 44 per cent fruit. Compared with the previous year, the situation has thus shifted slightly in the direction of vegetables. Measured by the quantity sold, tomatoes, pears and cucumbers were the top products in 2018. In terms of sales, strawberries were ahead of tomatoes and pears.
Although Belgium exports a lot of fruit and vegetables, the trade balance is negative. This is also due to its aforementioned function as a hub for produce in Europe.