In salads, on toast in the morning or on a plate: Swedes eat tomatoes in summer and winter. As soon as the warm season returns, the local production, in the greenhouse, covers 30% of the needs. In winter, 97% of tomatoes are imported, mainly from the Netherlands, but also from Spain or Morocco. The remaining 3% – around 30 tons per week – comes from Nordic Greens’ greenhouses 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 harvested, 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, too high to guarantee the profitability of a winter harvest.
Next to the greenhouses, two large wood-fired boilers produce the energy needed to heat buildings with an area equal to twenty-eight football fields. But when the sun only rises at 8:30 am and sets at 3:45 pm in December, there is not enough daylight for growing tomatoes. It is therefore necessary to turn on the hundreds of LED lamps hanging from the glass ceilings.
But it is not only the price of electricity that has risen: inflation also affects seeds, plants and fertilizers. The cost of packaging has jumped 50% in recent months. That of urea, used for the treatment of nitric oxide in boiler chimneys, has passed “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 about twenty years ago.
Inflation also affects seeds, plants and fertilizers
Between April and October, he explains, greenhouses consume 300 MWh of electricity per month. In winter, requirements multiply by four, reaching 1,200 MWh. Until 2021, Nordic Greens were paying around 60 crown cents per kWh, or 1 million crowns per year. “Then the prices started to fluctuate, climbing up to 2.50 crowns. From August it goes on average to 3.60 crowns, with peaks of 5-6 crowns, on certain days, ten times more than what we paid before 2021.
At this level, growing tomatoes in the winter is no longer of interest, Krasauskas assures. 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 customers, they will buy something else. “
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