Ilta-Sanomat asked experts for estimates on whether the price of domestic berries will rise next summer if there is a shortage of seasonal workers compared to the normal situation.

In recent days, the public has been discussing what will happen as a result of the coronary pandemic of labor on Finnish berry farms.

IS previously reported on the decision of the Ukrainian government not to allow its citizens to seasonal work abroad. Four airplane seasonal workers were expected from Finland to berry farms, among others, but so far only one airplane has arrived in Finland.

Juha Marttila, Chairman of MTK, the Finnish Federation of Agricultural and Forestry Producers.

Photo: Sami Kero

According to Juha Marttila, chairman of MTK, the Federation of Finnish Agricultural and Forestry Producers, the lack of seasonal labor can lead to a reduction in production and collapses on farms.

Timo Sipiläinen, Professor of Agricultural Economics at the University of Helsinki, predicts that strawberry prices would rise for the coming summer harvest, as supply will obviously decrease.

According to Sipiläinen, the determination of the price of strawberries is not related to the mere picking stage, but the prices are already affected by the arrangement of berry crop management measures during the spring.

- That is, arranging production, irrigation, use of fabrics, fertilization.

  • Read more: MTK whips the government: Inaction can threaten security of supply and berry farms - the list of measures was issued a month ago

Sipiläinen says that if farmers have difficulty getting enough staff to help in the spring and summer, it will have a detrimental effect on the quality and quantity of the upcoming harvest, which would raise strawberry prices.

Kalle Hoppula, a researcher at the Natural Resources Center who specializes in berry growing.

Photo: Kai Tirkkonen

- It affects the availability of strawberries, which in turn affects the price. The second step, then, is that when those berries start to come, that’s how it can be collected. The greatest need for seasonal labor is in the harvest.

- Of course, the problem also affects the production of fruits, berries and vegetables more broadly in this coming harvest season, he adds.

Kalle Hoppula, a researcher at the Natural Resources Center who specializes in berry growing, says that the consumer prices of strawberries are affected not only by the quantity and quality of the strawberry harvest but also by the amount of picking costs.

According to Hoppula, picking costs are affected by, for example, how quickly the berries are collected.

The strawberry picker must be paid at least in accordance with the collective agreement. The minimum wage for a picker according to the TES for Rural Industries is EUR 8.71 per hour.

The recommended salary for strawberry picking for 2020 is EUR 1.05 per kilo.

The farmer incurs employer costs in addition to the premium. When paying a contract salary to a picker, one kilo of strawberries thus costs the farmer 1.05 euros and the side costs on top, according to Hoppula, a total of about 1.50 euros per kilo.

According to Hoppula, for example, experienced foreign strawberry pickers typically pick about 10 to 20 pounds per hour.

Photo: Roni Rekomaa / Lehtikuva

Hoppula estimates that in order for a picker to earn more than the minimum wage according to the TES as contract work, he would have to pick more than 8.3 kilos of strawberries per hour.

If the pick-up collects less than 8.3 kilos per hour, for example only five kilos, and receives the minimum hourly wage according to the TES, the fee to be paid to the pick-up per kilo is 1.74 euros. In other words, more than the recommended salary for contract work is 1.05 euros per kilo, Hoppula calculates.

Hoppula says that when the farmer's side costs are added to this, a kilo of strawberries then costs the farmer about a euro more, and there is upward pressure on the price of strawberries.

- In other words, if the pickers pick up less than 8.3 kilos per hour and do not earn a contract, then the production cost and selling price of the strawberry will start to rise.

According to the Association of Fruit and Berry Growers, the need for labor for berry farms is more than 3,000 during the spring and about 15,000 during the harvest phase.

Photo: Roni Rekomaa / Lehtikuva

- Including VAT, this means that a farmer would have to get about one euro more per kilo of strawberries per five kilos per hour. In other words, a drop in the picking speed by this will increase the farmer's pressure to get more price by at least one euro.

  • Read also: Suonenjokinen berry farmer would recruit Finns for seasonal work, but there are few willing people - that's why Ukrainians are especially popular

According to Hoppula, the slower the picker, the more lifting pressure will come to the price.

- If we find fast enough pickers who pick up 10 to 20 pounds an hour, then the price of strawberries will not rise, he estimates.

According to Hoppula's understanding, for example, experienced foreign strawberry pickers typically pick about 10–20 kilos per hour, while more inexperienced pickers typically pick about 5–10 kilos per hour.

"I would prepare for a 20% price increase in five-kilo boxes"

Hoppula says that the consumer price of a five-kilo strawberry box was typically 30-35 euros last summer, but the box could also be obtained for 25 euros.

He estimates that if the average picking speed of pickers were to drop to five kilos per hour next summer, there would be a price buying pressure of at least 20% for the strawberry grower.

With regard to wild berries, there are two markets: direct and market sales, which are dominated by Finnish pickers, and wholesale berries, which primarily utilize foreign pickers.

Photo: Onni Ojala / Lehtikuva

- Yes, the price of a box of strawberries will inevitably be more than 30 euros. Some farms may be under pressure to raise to 40 euros. If the standard price of a box has been around € 30-35 in the past, I would say it will probably be € 35-40 this summer.

- The rough throw is that I would prepare for a 20 percent price increase in five-kilo boxes, Hoppula estimates.

In strawberry prices per liter, the farmer's margins are higher, so the change in the picking rate does not affect the price per kilo as much and the price increase pressure is not as great.

- The lifting pressure of 10 per cent will probably come to these as well, in liter prices the price increase could be 10-20 per cent, he thinks.

Rainer Peltola, a specialist researcher at the Natural Resources Center, says that there are two markets for natural berries.

There are direct berry sales and market sales, which he says are dominated by Finnish pickers.

- And then there is the wholesale berry, which ends up on the market through big berry buyers. And these big berry buyers primarily take advantage of foreign pickers.

Up to 80 percent of the seasonal agricultural workforce works specifically on berry farms.

Photo: Antti Hämäläinen / IS

Peltola estimates that if foreign pickers do not get to Finland, berry wholesalers will have big problems with the availability of berries.

- What is likely to happen in it is that there are fewer domestic berries in the retail trade, it may even become a shortage. And it might raise that price somewhat.

- With regard to market sales and direct sales, ie the part of the berry market that is dominated by domestic pickers, I see no reason how the corona situation would affect it.

According to the Association of Fruit and Berry Growers, the need for labor for berry farms is more than 3,000 during the spring and about 15,000 during the harvest phase.

Up to 80 percent of the seasonal agricultural workforce works specifically on berry farms.