Success Story Northern Macedonia / SEC Assignment of Hans Burger

Having received two SEC consulting assignments since autumn 2017, an organic producer in Resen is one of the SEC clients who have already benefited several times from an SEC expert. Hans Burger, a trained agronomist at ETH Zurich and SEC expert since May 2009, supported the company for the first time in 2017 during harvest time and in spring 2019 after flowering. The tasks and expectations of the experts varied accordingly.

The first assignment focused on getting to know the company, the region, the people and their situation and to take stock of the existing problems. In general, the production processes had to be reviewed and difficulties and bottlenecks in the orchards, which are already under ecological standards, evaluated. The final report, commissioned by the client, served as a list of measures for the period up to the follow-up operation.

The follow-up assignment was conducted in May 2019. Counting on the support of the responsible agronomist on site in various areas, facilitated this second consultancy. The main focus was on biological plant protection, in particular on the monitoring of diseases and pests to determine damage thresholds (e.g. using pheromones (attractants) traps) with which biological control is indicated.

Agronomist while monitoring insect traps

About the client

The organic producer in Resen, Macedonia, is part of a diversified company. It comprises 170 hectares of orchards and cold stores. The farm is located in the middle of a large orchard area of 3500 hectares, which is mainly managed by small farmers (2-3 hectares). Their economic potential is not fully exploited (outdated facilities, inefficient sales structures, lack of advice and support).

The size of the company allows to successfully collaborate with science and research institutions and to test innovations, which can spread to the region and benefit small farmers. The manager, who is convinced of organic production and is willing to take risks, sees growing sales opportunities for organic fruit from the Resen region at home and abroad. For this reason, the farm is gradually being converted to organic standards. To realise this development, the client turned to the SEC for technical support and to get their staff trained. The SEC expert Hans Burger turned out to be a perfect match for this profile.

Questions to SEC expert Hans Burger

What impressed you most during this consulting assignment?
The client showed great interest and the contacts on a personal level worked out right from the start. I felt very much at home in the region, which is characterized by fruit-growing tradition. Especially worth mentioning is the beautiful landscape with Lake Prespa nearby.

What surprised you and what didn’t work as expected?
I was disappointed by the insufficient quality awareness of the harvest personnel in particular. This is probably a consequence of the migration of many qualified people abroad. The reason for this is the generally poor economic situation in northern Macedonia and the low wages averaging only 200 to 400 euros per month.

Transporting a day’s harvest of apples from a smallholder farmer family

What potential do you see with this client? Are you confident that this client will successfully produce biologically in the future?
The demand for organic fruit is increasing on the European markets. The natural conditions in the Resen region – good climatic conditions, altitude 880 m above sea level, irrigation possibilities – offer the best conditions for high fruit pulp quality. However, the basis for success continues to be large investments in orchards, infrastructure, personnel and sales markets. It is also to be hoped that this example will positively impact this fruit-growing region as a whole, typically managed by small holder farmers.

Because I am convinced of the potential, I continue to support the business also from home, mainly by communicating new findings from research and practice.