David M Berry, 28th November 2019
Early November is a good time to visit Shandong as generally the weather is stable and sunny and the autumn colours at their best. This Autumn has been very dry in our part of the province and while we have enough water now other parts of Shandong received more than their fair share of rain in late summer while the Jimo area missed out. Typhoon Lekima passed over around 11 August but left far more rain in other parts of Shandong also. We may feel the effects of that comparative deficit next Spring.
Our organic farms look better than last year with an increase in strawberry planting for crop 2020. We still have some autumn crop carrots and cabbages to harvest in the next week or two. The photograph to the left shows the fortunate nature of farming in this warm free-draining soil at 36 degrees north. The area under cabbages already yielded a crop of carrots in June and the area under carrots already yielded a crop of potatoes in July. So it is quite practical to get a double crop of some vegetables every year underlining the tremendous productivity of the north China plain. The bullet train in the background of the photograph is the Qingdao to Yantai line.
Update ‘from the factory floor’…
At the factory several things were going on: in the drying plant apple juice infused dried strawberries were being packed up into retail bags; the fruit preparation workshop was running berry purées in 1 kilo packs for a Chinese ice cream manufacturer; in the freezing plant frozen kiwifruit were being topped, tailed and peeled prior to further elaboration into dices, slices and dried material; and in the adjoining workshop Fuji apples were being diced and frozen.
The flash pasteuriser is now fully installed with homogeniser, so we are all set to produce all sorts of top quality frozen purées in a range of pack sizes. Customers please do step up! In the NPD kitchen our staff were working on a vege-burger recipe. The vegan movement is rising also in China. At the other end of the factory our water treatment plant is releasing very clean water which is pumped back to our Waikawa block for irrigation. The bottle shows the water clarity.
Kirby and I took a very interesting trip to a small town set in stunning hill country about 250 kilometres away. This township specialises in the machinery for and the manufacture of fruit leathers. This product has been consumed in China for many years and it is the Chinese Hawthorn that is the celebrated main ingredient. The value of the Hawthorn is in its high pectin content so when this is cooked with sugar and other ingredients the resulting paste is naturally very viscous and transforms into a fruit leather easily. The Chinese recipe is unlikely to find favour with western buyers and frankly the standard of the factories processing for the domestic market is far from optimal but the machinery is fine and we will be embarking on this production ourselves very soon.
The final part of my visit was spent with our old supplier friends in the raspberry growing areas around Kangping Faku and Shenyang in Liaoning province. This involved a couple of hours on the G-series bullet train where we whispered along at 303 kph. Apparently the next generation of these trains will travel at 350 kph.
The raspberry situation in China has been very tough for farmers and packers since the 2016 season and many have left the business. Market access has been difficult and weather problems (both flooding and drought) have added to the trauma. Despite this some of the stayers have been encouraged to expand and open new areas. Large packers such as Today and New Lands have closed or retrenched. Indeed, in Shandong as well there are casualties among some of the big packers. Luhua for example have closed probably the most beautiful high capacity IQF factory I have ever seen. The high capacity and inflexibility are the problem; these factories cost a lot to run and need a lot of labour and they are only good for one activity. Luhua will be ok as their main fortune is in the sunflower oil business but for the time being, they are out of frozen strawberries.
We will continue to support Mr Xia and our other hard-working suppliers in the area
Coming back to the Liaoning raspberries, we think the negative sentiment may have bottomed out. The picture shows Kirby and I with our old friend Mr Xia who has been a raspberry pioneer in the area; behind us is his new small cold store. This is being built in his hometown and will complement the 3 other cold stores he controls. This small one has a capacity of 100 MT and will cost USD 30k to build, less a government subsidy of USD 15k provided the building is finished by the end of the year. It will be. We will continue to support Mr Xia and our other hard-working suppliers in the area as best we can as they look forward to more optimistic times.
Over the last 20 years of our JV in China I have stayed at the Shangri La Hotel in Qingdao. A walk along the water-front brought me to the nearly completed Haitian Centre. This will be the tallest building in Qingdao at 369 metres and part of the building complex will be a 6 star Hotel. For me though the friendliness of the staff at the Shangri La and the quality of service keep me coming back. This last clip is what flicks up on the television when you switch on. They are a great team.
So it is back to the UK and a December election that may resolve the 3 year curse of Brexit. Better not to hold our breath!
We thank all our customers around the world for their valued cooperation with us and wish you all the best for the upcoming festive season.