As war continues, Ukrainian farmers find a lifeline in blueberry exports
April 18, 2024

Blueberry exports from Ukraine have grown out of economic necessity amid the ongoing Russian invasion.

Despite the war, and in some ways because of it, Ukrainian growers have rapidly shifted their focus to export markets and they’re seeing results. This year, Ukraine has seen record blueberry exports, sector analysis indicates.

Between 2015 and 2018, Ukraine's blueberries saw considerable growth, with many farmers planting what promised to be the next great product.

Oleksandr Pukshyn, sales manager for Ukrainian blueberry exporter Blue Berry LLC says that after two years of war, not many people can afford to buy blueberries, and no one cares about premium products.

“Before the invasion, we had more people, more markets available locally,” Pukshyn said. “The currency has gone up so people buy fruits but in much lower quantities.”

He said this is the biggest challenge facing the industry right now because they don’t know when the conflict will finish.

With volumes growing from new Ukrainian producers entering the market, the focus has turned to exports to survive because the value and market for the fruit locally has declined.

Pukshyn said that last year, Ukraine exported more than 5,000 tons of fresh blueberries to the European market, with Poland representing 75% of the total share, followed by the Netherlands and Germany.

The challenge of exporting

Shifting the industry's focus has not been easy, especially for the new producers turning to exports for the first time. Pukshyn says many lack the knowledge and resources to enter Europe.

“These smaller growers are only doing local sales, but big growers like us are only doing exports, trying to have no business in Ukraine,” Pukshyn said.

The Ukrainian Berries Association is trying to help small growers with the know-how on exports and gaining access to more profitable markets.

However, Pukshyn says they must have access to things like storage and cooling facilities, which are very expensive.

“They would have to get a crest from banks to build a facility, but in these circumstances, interest rates are too high for them to afford,” he said.

Expectations for this season

Pukshyn says that even for exporters, it's been very hard to compete with European prices, and they are being offered very low prices.

He said last year, prices in August were “ridiculous,” with buyers asking for €9-€11 per kilo. In six years working as a sales manager, he had never seen these prices before.

“This happened because the Peruvian season was late, and the demand in Europe was extremely high,” he said.

This year, Ukrainian exporters are expecting a rather challenging season, starting in mid-June through the end of September, because spring started too early locally and elsewhere in Europe.

Pukshyn says, in general, their seasons are “too difficult” because different challenges have arisen every year.

Entering the International Blueberry Organization

Recently, the IBO announced Blue Berry LLC was rejoining the organization after having to leave it years before.

Pukshyn says this is a good opportunity to connect with more growers around the world and learn about the issues going on globally.

The organization gave details about the company, stating that Blue Berry LLC is a modern plantation of over 120 hectares of conventional blueberries with an excellent export-oriented location in the Transcarpathian region, bordering on four EU countries (Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania) and less than 800 km to Berlin, Germany.