HIVEKOVICS FAMILY ORCHARDS: modern, open, interactive and innovative
Our family runs fruit orchards and a large bee farm for almost 40 years near the town of Nagykanizsa in Hungary. Based on our assessment of future markets and our experiences throughout the last four decades, under the leadership of environmental agronomist Akos Hivekovics we initiated some substantial expansion early in 2014, in order to be able to meet recent and future production standards and customer needs. These customer needs can easily be summarized in two words: quantity and quality. For the last few years, patriotic behavior is expanding among Hungarian consumers, which means they are willing to pay more for fruits that were grown exclusively in Hungary and thus supporting the creation of rural jobs and the maintenance of rural lifestyles. Parallel with this new market phenomenon, hypermarket chains are also becoming more open towards the sales of Hungarian fruit, meaning that very slowly, but surely, they can replace the cheaper, but lower quality and uncontrollable imported products. This new situation is great for Hungarian growers but at the same time, it also requires them to literally grow up to the expectations. For hypermarket chains, the first and most important thing is the uninterrupted supply. In other words, they can only trade with Hungarian products when growers can continuously provide the required qualities in the required quantity, at least during a specific growing season. For this, we decided to expand our orchards continuously, until we reach our planned goal of the annual production of 1,000 tons of pears, 150 tons of blueberries, 30 tons of blackberries and 30 tons of monofloral honeys. On the other hand, in order to increase production security and decrease environmental hazards, we seek to maximally implement the most advanced technologies (hail nets, trellis systems, drip-irrigation, renewable energies, frost protection and biological pest control) in our orchards.
By consuming locally grown fruits, we not only support the livelihood of the rural population but increase our own health and dietary habits, as well. For this very reason, we pay absolute attention to the production of high quality, healthy and tasteful fruits. However, at the same time, consumer habits are also changing fast. More and more people prefer to buy their high quality, locally grown fruit directly from the grower at farmers' markets, at specialty fairs and via web shops, excluding the hypermarket chains from the process. We are very pleased by this process, yet we also had to realize that it is not so easy to meet these new consumer requirements in rural Hungary. Processing our fruit into healthy but preservable products requires not only plenty of know-how but also serious investments, which is not readily available for most fruit orchard owners these days. Whereas those who figure all of this out, typically produce some real specialties but in very small amount, which will then make it impossible to create long-lasting direct sales chains between growers and consumers. Plenty of consumers complained to us, saying that by the time they selected the local product they liked and the local farm they trusted, their products ran out for that year and now they needed to wait almost another whole year before they can purchase and enjoy the flavors they liked. This was another main reason behind our decision of expanding our orchard size considerably. This way, we will be able to supply our distinguished customers not only with fresh fruits during ripening season, but also with specially prepared and preserved, healthy products (natural juices, dried fruits, fruit wines, honeys and other specialties) all year round.
The third major change these days, which we hugely support and welcome, is the rapid expansion of the popularity of 'pick your own' programs. It is a pleasure to see that despite our rushing, time-deficient world, more and more people and especially more and more families decide to free up time for a rural trip, through which they enjoy fresh air, sunshine and some physical labor, plus as the result of those, they can return home with high-quality, fresh, healthy local fruit, in the required amounts and at the right price. We are working to support and strengthen this lovely movement with all of our resources. Our orchards and grower technologies are designed in such ways that they are suitable to receive large numbers of visitors and fruit pickers. From June to September, we welcome all participants of our 'pick your own' program every weekend. For those willing to get a deeper insight and a more detailed knowledge of our orchards and technologies, something more extensive that a half day fruit-picking event, we organize weekly field study and volunteer programs, which is available for any and all age groups between 14 and 104. Below we provide a detailed description of our orchards and our other activities.
Our pear orchards
The climate conditions of Zala Hills are perfect for growing pears, even in an international context, thus it was an easy and simple decision for us, localpatriotic people, to choose the crop that will mean the core of our fruit-growing business in the future. For the next 5 years, we are planning to grow pears on 30 hectares, our of which 13 hectares are already completed with healthy and fast growing trees, awaiting for thei time to come and allow them to please our customers with bigger and bigger crop every year. The remaining 17 hectares are under construction with the trellis system and the hail net being installed as we speak, whereas our virus-free trees will arrive in early 2016 from Italy, where they have been produced specifically for us. Our full capacity is expected to be reached in the summer of 2020. We hope to be able to participate in the success of Hungarian fruit production by one million kilogramm each year afterwards. Two thirds of our pear orchards are made of Alexander, which is known as 'winter pear' in Hungary, while the remaining one third consists of the popular Wilmos and the unique, elongated Abade Fetel varieties.
Our blueberry orchards
Our Family Orchards pays great attention to innovation, to bringing new and unique products to the Hungarian markets. European tendencies show sharp increase in the per capita consumption of farmed blueberries, which is not accidental, considering the excellent taste and perfect nutritional values of the new, farmed variesties. The lack of blueberry orchards in Hungary and the high price of the imported fruit so far prevented blueberries from becoming a broadly consumed, popular fruit in the country. Apart from a couple of very small plantations, Hungarian blueberry farming pretty much does not exist. Nearly 100% of all fruits sold in the country are imported. We would like to change this situation by creating the first commercial-size, substrate-based blueberry plantation of Hungary. Last year we purchased our first 10,000 plants, which will give their first crop in the summer of 2016. In the spring of 2016, we are expecting another shipment of 30,000 plants, while another year later the last 40,000 blueberry plants. Our blueberry orchards will reach their maximum capacity in the summer of 2020, providin our customers with 150 to 200 tons of fresh fruit annually.
Our blackberry orchard
Our 2-hectare blackberry plantation was created with true love - of all the berries grown in Hungary, blackberries are our absolute favorite by far. Not only because of its extremely high antioxidant capacity compared to other berries, but also because of its unique taste and its potential to be used for so many gastronomic products. During our 'pick your own' programs, we are looking forward to welcoming our distinguished guests in our blackberry orchard from late June till mid-September. For those who are unable to come personally, we deliver this noble, unique, underconsumed and underappreciated fruit via our webshop or via our partner stores across the country. For those who are unable to come personally, we can supply a great variety of blackberry products: blackberry juice with apple, blackberry wine, blackberry brandy and blackberry jam. Our 30 ton crop guarantees that all of our blackberry product will be available all winter long. We wholeheartedly recommend for every person to frequently consume larger quantities of blackberries and its products, in order to preserve their health.
Our honey bees and honeybee innovations
Our Family Farm is keeping bees for amost 40 years by now. For us, bee keeping is not simply a tradition and a business verture, but a sort of responsibility, as well. We firmly believe that human food security and supplies are impossible to be achieved (at least in the short or mid term future) without the blessing activities of these busy pollinating insects. Yet, bee hives are collapsing and disappearing worldwide in alarming numbers, as chemicals and sugar monodiets are weakening their immune system. This worries us a lot and inspires us to join efforts to find global solutions. At our Family Orchards, we pay extra effort for the creation of what we call 'intensive honey farming', which will have great economic reasults but which we also hope to utilize for the increased health, immune system and foraging diversity of our bees, as well. Bee keeping is a very unique segment of agriculture, one that requires special know-how and practical experiences. The number of pollinating insects is critically low all over the world, which is why bees and bee farms are increasingly in the spotlight, increasingly important for the entire agricultural sector. Humanity can't afford to let bees disappear. The primary product of bee farming is honey, which has a very stable and continuous market, with stable and positive predictions for the future. Whereas production capacity is at extreme highs, near maximums in most agricultural sectors and one needs continuous genetic innovations for growth, the utilised productivity of our bees is extremely low. A healthy, well-developed bee hive under rural Hungarian circumstances can, without difficulties, collect 5 kgs of honey each day between mid-May and mid-September, as long as they have an easy-to-reach, productive pasture nearby. The maximum productive potential of our bees, as this shows you, 120 days x 5 kg, or 600 kg total in one single growing season. In comparison, an average bee hive in an average area of Hungary produces no more than 25 kg in a season, which means that we utilise a mere 4% of our bees' capacity! In theory, there is a serious potential and a serious need for increased productivity in bee farming, so it is absolutely worth it to investigate this opportunity a little closer. A more detailed analysis will reveal very quickly that the main reason behind such a low productivity is the lack of available pastures. Increasing the size of bee farms is definitely not a solution, all research and innovation must go into increasing the quantity and quality of bee foragig pastures. Hungary's primary, and in many areas, sole real pasture is Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia). The main advantage of this tree is that it is producing nectare very reliably except under truly extreme climatic conditions like severe storms, whereas its disadvantage is that it blooms for a very short period of time only. Another recent disadvantage is that the EU wants to see this on the list of invasive, introduced species, which will mean a major loss of population if implemented. With this, Hungarian bee keepers slowly loose their primary source of income, the source of their main honey crop. Analyzing the international and local honey markets, it seems timely that a Hungarian bee keeper takes its future into his own hands by creating his own bee pastures and thus increase and stabilize his honey production. In order to intensify honey production in Hungary, we either need cultivated crops or forests planted of trees that produce plenty of nectars. An average Hungarian beekeper's options are reduced to the cultivated crops because forest establishments are subject of strict regulations and they also require a large investment that provides its first returns 5 to 8 years later. Not to mention that Black Locust has the highest honey potential of all forest trees in Hungary with about 1,500 kg/ha, a number that can easily be achieved with a non-perennial cultivated flower, which requires a lot less investment and brings a very fast return. In order to utilise crop cultivation in Hungary for the purpose of bee keeping and honey production, we needed to study the climatic conditions, soil properties, and all potential flowering species, and compare their business potential to their 'competitors', the traditionally cultivated crops that Hungarian farmers make money out of on their fields. Only with these data in our hands, we were able to determine, whether increased utilisation of cultivated land for honey production has a true and financially viable future. During this process, we had to come across one major obstacle: the real and most important problem with creating bee pastures for primary honey production in Hungary is the fact that bee hive density in Hungary is one of the highest in the entire world. Which means that after one bee keeper creates its own pastures with plenty of time and money invested, the profits will be harvested not only by his bees but that of many other bee keepers', not to mention the pretty high number of other wild insects. As a summary, we can state that creating bee pastures for primary honey production is a viable idea in Hungary, but only under the circumstances where the pasture owner can cover the entire pasture with a high-ceiling agricultural insect net system, under which only his own bees work the pasture during the peak flowering period.