Modern farmers do not only take care of farm buildings and fields, they are also business managers. This includes accounting, purchasing, sales and marketing. As a result, you will find Jochen Weibeler in Cologne doing a lot of computer work in winter, keeping up with price developments of the products he has in storage.

“Some farmers take their cereals to the agro-trader in summer. We don’t. Our granary allows us to act as free players on the market. We phase our wheat sales to make sure we get decent prices. We keep track of business fluctuations and when the cereal market gathers momentum, we sell.”

This sales strategy is also applied to the savoy cabbage. Only if prices are really good, a small part of it is sold directly after harvest. Most of it overwinters in the cold house, waiting for better prices.

 Wintertime also gives the farmers a chance to catch up with the paper work and to carry out third party verification of their documentation on plant protection and fertilizer applications.

“Suppliers of the big supermarket chains in Europe have to account for every plant protection measure in the field, proving also that they respected the required intervals between applications. We always wait until winter time to get together with the authorities of the ‘GlobalGap’ standards,” says Weibeler, “for the comprehensive inspection process takes a little time.”

Dreams of spring

When the winter is at its darkest, Europe’s agro-managers start thinking about the coming spring. Oleg Malayrenko in Ukraine has lots of plans for the coming season: “In the new year we want to buy a harvester-thresher and we want to invest in more fertilizer for our rapeseed. We are now negotiating with the bank to obtain a new credit line, although I hope that I will not have to use it. The interest is very high.”

He also keeps track of fertilizer prices to use a favorable offer if he sees one. “Planning the amount of fertilizer is a major effort - after all, fertilizer costs per hectare. On a 5.400 hectare farm like ours, we are talking about a lot of money,” says Malyarenko.

Meanwhile, he also attends winter workshops organized by agro-traders and agro-companies to update farmers on new plant protection products, fertilizers and market strategies. These information events help him to access the latest global innovations – even though he lives in Romanova Balka, a small village in the Ukrainian countryside.

 Jochen Weibeler in Cologne is also planning ahead for the coming spring and teams up with other farmers to get better prices for fertilizers and plant protection by purchasing bigger quantities. In the foggy town of Lleida, in the North East of Spain, Pau Salze looks south with a little envy. His colleagues in the green houses of hot and sunny Andalucía keep harvesting all through the winter, supplying Europe with fresh vegetables.