The “real” Hungarian watermelon season begins

I’m happy to announce that Hungarian consumers no longer have to wait. It’s watermelon season. In the last month alone more than 200 articles appeared about the excellence of watermelons grown in Hungary. The Orbán government fell in love with the watermelon and made it “prestige produce,” as MTV’s Híradó called it. Or, put another way, it became a national fruit, which is really funny considering that watermelon in Hungarian is called “Greek melon” and the Hungarian word for “melon” (“dinnye”) comes from one of the Southern Slavic languages. Watermelon arrived in Hungary sometime in the later fourteenth century, most likely from the Byzantine Empire with which Hungary had close relations.

Watermelon may be called “Greek melon” in Hungarian, but the ministry of agriculture began a campaign against buying “Greek melon from Greece.” Instead, consumers should buy “Greek melon from Hungary.” Preferably twice as many as they would normally buy. Why? Because Hungarian watermelon is much better than the Greek import and because there is an overproduction of watermelon year after year.

Shortly after the formation of the second Orbán government the ministry of agriculture decided to subsidize watermelon production. And they promoted the idea of farmers using their land to grow watermelon. Why watermelon? I have no idea, especially since growing melons is an expensive undertaking, and growers specializing in watermelon have only a month to sell enough watermelon to provide them with income for a whole year.

Growing melons requires a lot of land. It is also labor and capital intensive because one needs greenhouses equipped with incubators and farmers have to carefully graft watermelon plant shoots onto squash vines. Yes, you heard it right. This is a fairly new method that makes the watermelon plants more resistant to blight and disease. Growers tell us that the final result is practically indistinguishable from the old-fashioned watermelons. And the ministry assures people that these hybrid melons are absolutely safe, unlike some of those coming from elsewhere.

From the very beginning there have been problems with Orbán’s prestige product.  During the summer of 2011 many jokes were cracked about how “Orbán will slip on a watermelon peel.” Although the government set up “watermelon stands” which growers could rent for very little, there was minimal interest. Because of overproduction, prices were low. The lowest prices could be found at László Baldauf’s CBA chain, which is a favorite of the Orbán government. In addition, the weather was lousy: it was cold and wet, and watermelon needs a warm climate and lots of sunshine. No wonder that Greece, Italy, and Spain are large exporters of melon.

The summer of 2012 was not much better. Prices were again terribly low. Gyula Budai, undersecretary of the ministry of agriculture, blamed the supermarket chains for buying imported watermelons about a month before the Hungarian season began. An abundance of watermelons in June would reduce interest in the superior Hungarian melons in July. At this point the ministry put pressure on the supermarket chains and forced uniform pricing on them. They had to promise that they would not sell watermelon under 99Ft/kg. Apparently, the chains thought that the Hungarian Competition Authority (Gazdasági Versenyhivatal/GVH) had given its blessing to the deal. They were mistaken, and when GVH learned about the price fixing they investigated and threatened the participants with heavy fines. At this point a Fidesz MP, who himself was a watermelon grower, suggested a change in the law that allowed GVH to investigate agricultural cartels only with the permission of the ministry of agriculture.

But who knows where it came from?

But who knows where it came from?

In 2013 the ministry again tried to force price controls on the supermarkets, but they refused because such an agreement would have meant banning practically all imported watermelon from the Hungarian market. They were also afraid that the European Union might investigate and fine the businesses for engaging in price fixing. By the end the government only asked the firms not to buy Hungarian watermelon for less than they were paying for Italian or Macedonian imports.

What is the situation today? The campaign is on. About three weeks ago an article appeared with this headline: “Be careful, imported watermelons have already appeared in the stores!” According to a headline in Figyelő: “One doesn’t have to bear it much longer: the watermelon season is about to begin.” “Only two more weeks and the watermelon season will begin!,” says an article in Népszabadság, with the author adding that “this will be the real Hungarian season.” We learn from the article that watermelon is being grown on 5,800 hectares, mostly in the southern section of Békés County, along the Romanian-Hungarian border. Almost half of the watermelon is exported, primarily to Germany, the Czech Republic, and Poland.

Meanwhile some of the supermarket chains have made their peace with the Orbán government. Lidl stocks Hungarian watermelons earlier than any other chain because for them “assisting Hungarian farmers, in particular watermelon growers, is very important.”

The ministry of agriculture urges people not to buy Greek watermelon/görögdinnye because by buying the Hungarian product the customer will support 11,000 Hungarian families engaged in melon growing. The crop looks very good. About 220,000 tons of watermelon are expected to reach market this year. Meanwhile the National Office of Taxation and Customs–NAV (Nemzeti Adó- és Vámhivatal)–is out in full force to find people who are selling watermelon at roadside stands. Farmers who have the requisite permit can sell their own produce at roadside stands. But the NAV officials found a few stands where watermelons of unknown origin were being sold. They were promptly confiscated.

And latest happy news on the watermelon front. An internet site from Pécs announced that “the watermelon season has burst onto Pécs.” The watermelon comes from the Ormánság region of Baranya, south of Pécs. The article assures consumers that not only is watermelon available but also “freshly picked squash from reliable peasant women [kofa] at the markets.” I guess one can’t be too careful when screening peasant women who sell squash.

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Member

I’m totally biased on this! My in-laws have been growing watermelon in southern Bekes county for 30 years. It’s very hard work, I can tell you that. When I met my wife, to impress the girl, I went down to help them out in the watermelon season. The city kid from BP, with scrawny arms. They were laughing their ass of. My back almost broke when we loaded a truck. But it payed well. Payed for our first flat in BP after we got married. Of course it wasn’t the only produce they were growing. Yellow pepper was the other one. And peanuts. No kidding.

Today all the family members are successful farmers. They also do a lot of business with German companies. I have no idea what. Some kind of specialty crop. Don’t ask. Well, anyway, they are great, hard working folks and they always stayed away from politics.

Member
Primitiv people have lousy ideas and eating a lots of watermelons does not improve their ability to think, but let them try it. Gyula Budai is probably one of the the most primitive member of the Hungarian Government. However…… It is easier to lie about the better quality of watermelons Made in Hungary, there is little risk involved and no warranty claims to be paid for the bad ones, if encountered, customers just throw them in the garbage. It is left to the foreigners, looked upon by some Hungarians with disdain and spoken about disparagingly, who have to design and build car factories where they make cars like Audi, Open, Mercedes and Suzuki, that produces the majority of industrial products exported from Hungary. Between 17-19% of Hungary’s export is from the car manufacturers owned by German and Japanese car makers. The tire manufacturing is also by foreign companies. A lot of watermelons have to be grown and sold to get enough money to buy a single Mercedes, but the tireless peasants of Hungary do the work proudly and mostly with success. P.S. It does not occur to the Hungarian primitives, that when they deny unfairly the importation of foreign goods… Read more »
Wondercat
Guest

Eggs, flour, “powdered yogurt”? What are they putting in those Auchan melons?

Member

Although I like the Hungarian watermelon, i cannot stand all the seeds. I am not sure if it is still the same, but there was no way eating watermelon gracefully when I was growing up. Now I know that for Orban spitting the seeds left and right is a kind of “must have”, just like with the sunflower seeds… And that is my sole input regarding Hungary’s watermelon crises.

Guest

I have always eaten the seeds.

exTor
Guest

When I go to the Csepel Piac tomorrow, I will look for hand-lettered signs that say ‘görögdinnye’. The only place I’ve seen the full term is in Tesco.

When I was growing up speaking Hungarian in Toronto, the only word I ever heard was ‘dinnye’. When I saw ‘görögdinnye’ here, I thought that the word referred to the small melons that looked like bowling balls.

When I eat watermelons, I cant be bothered spitting out the seeds. I just swallow everything. This ‘eating seeds’ confuses me. Who actually ‘eats’ –as in chews and swallows– watermelon seeds? Same with grape seeds?

As far as I know, watermelon seeds go through the digestive system untouched. The body can not digest it, just as the human digestive system cant digest kernels of corn. It all comes out in the end.

So, is this about chewing?

MAGYARKOZÓ

Thom
Guest

Spot on. Plus water melon growing involves the use of lot of irrigation water which is not sustainable in the current form (as Hungary is drying out and is becoming a semi-desert). The taxpayers subsidize the growers with free water.

Guest

Let us remember Trofim Denisovich Lysenko.

Lysenko was a Sovjet plant breeder who claimed that plants could be trained to grow in a colder climate than they were used to. Stalin loved this idea as it would make it possible to expand Sovjet agriculture towards the North. Lysenko, without scientific background, became a member of the Sovjet Academy of Sciences, where he destroyed serious geneticists who opposed his ideas. They were arrested and died in Siberian camps.

Lysenko’s ideas were forced on all countries in Stalin’s empire, including Hungary. Olive, lemon and orange trees were planted and channels were dug in the Hortobagy to irrigate rice fields. (The channels can still be seen.) Until now the only crop harvested from the whole adventure was the film ”A Tanu” (The Witness), and the magazine ”Magyar Narancs” (Hungarian Orange). A valuable crop in its own way.

Now it seems that Lysenkoism is not dead in Hungary. Agriculture can defeat climate. At least with some political help.

Aba
Guest

I’m pretty sure that the Hungarian secret services just like in Russia are encouraging these kids and organizations to get more violent. It worked in Russia it will work in Hungary too. The bigger the chaos and violence (the greater the reaction of the opposotion), the better for Orban, who can appear as “the statesman” rising above the dirty details and defending the nation. Meanwhile Habony’s free weekly Lokál (the successor of Helyi Théma) is getting better, grabbing the attention of the readers (ie. everybody) looking for colorful news and celebrity gossip.

http://hvg.hu/itthon/20150710_Szelsosegesek_tamadtak_menekultekre_a_Kel

Guest

You can do a lot in agriculture if you use the soil and the climate you have optimally – with the right plants too. Maybe I’ve already written about the German company Vetter:

The started about 20 years ago in Ceglég near Kecskemét with Asparagus – which like that sandy “useless ” soil there …
And they’re selling their stuff to Germany where it gets good money!

Albrecht Neumerker
Guest

Re Wolfi

Even here in Sweden. I always buy them. Peter Rona have some thoughts of expanding irrigation for a better economy in rural environmental issues. No one listens to him.

Guest

@Albrecht: Wow!
Do you really get Asparagus from Cegléd (sorry for the earlier misspelling) in Sweden or did I misunderstand you?
Btw, in Hungary they only sell the thin “soup asparagus” relatively cheap (but it still tastes wondeful) – the really thick white ones are too expensive for Hungarians it seem.

Member

I don’t know if the asparagus is from Cegléd, but they are really tasty. If they are spanish or hungarian I do not care, but I buy the hungarian. I don’t know why, but it may be my longing for a democtatic homeland.

György Lázár
Guest

We just returned from Hungary and in late June, early July we bought several watermelons at the Lehel Piac which was close where we stayed in Budapest.

First, Hungarian grown watermelon is excellent. Taste, quality, crispness and sweetness is not comparable to California melon. My wife was born in California, she is a “proud Californian” and even she thinks that Hungarian watermelon is superior!

Second, Hungarian watermelon is not inexpensive. Prices were between 200-300 Ft a kilo. (If I remember correctly we payed 245 and 295 Ft) With the current exchange rate that is about 50 cents a pound, quite expensive. We pay 15-35 cents for a pound in CA.

Considering current Hungarian wages watermelon is an expensive delicacy for the average family.

Ron
Guest

I can vouch your story. I was also in Lehel piac noticing this in June. It actually stated that they were magyar termek, but anybody can state this and put a sticker on it.

The price difference between Hungary and CA is mainly due to Value Added Tax of 27% in Hungary. I do not know what the sales tax in CA on melon is.

Ron
Guest

After all these years in Hungary I do not know why these melons are charged by Kg and not per melon. Anybody has an answer on this? Or is this just tradition?

Guest

One reason might be the different weight – the last melon my wife bought had around 10 kilos – so we shared it with our neighbour, even though we had visitors, it was just too much.

PS:
199 Forint per kilo sound nicer anyway than 1999 per piece …

lurut
Guest

Because all melons don’t weigh the same? And also because many melons are cut up into many pieces so that you don’t have to buy a 8 kilogram piece, only a, say, 3.2 k piece? In any case it’s a tradition.

spectator
Guest

It isn’t that hard, really: not `all melons are created equal’, there are still smaller and bigger melons, all against the tireless effort of the present government which will provide the populace with “the greatest melons of all times”, whatever it takes!
Not to mention the “National Fidesz Melon” variety, which should be available strictly to loyal party members – seedless, sweet and juicy – while Gyurcsány should pick the seeds all by himself..!
So, while they working hard on the “melon of the same size to all of you” there are still some discrepancies, due to Mother nature still not a full pledged Fidesz supporter.

It’s only question of time, I assure you!

Member

Viktor Orban.

petofi
Guest

When you think of Hungary, think of cheating. Now, have you got it…?

Ok, a clue: 1=1 right?

But 9 kilos can only be what the seller says it is…

By a scale and see how often the purchased weight is not the real weight. Hungarico.

Hajra Magyarok!

Albrecht Neumerker
Guest

Honesty is a virtue. Hungarian stuff.

spectator
Guest

Regarding the melons – there is some interesting read in Hungarian:

http://index.hu/kultur/cinematrix/2015/07/09/mar_a_hollywoodi_filmes_sajto_is_a_magyar_botranyfilmrol_cikkezik/

To those fortunate who don’t read Hungarian: there is a movie about globalisation, capitalism, or whatever – haven’t seen it, but it isn’t the point – where someone takes potshots on watermelons equipped with portraits of leaders of different countries, like Putin, Merkel, and so on.
According to the director he’s been asked to remove/obscure/retouche the face of one of the ‘heads of the states’ in order to be able keep the otherwise previously granted support from the state.
Yeah, the state is Hungary, in case you wonder.

You may even guess, who was on the melon originally.

But no, this is not censure!
Actually nobody knows, what it supposed to be called, but censure it isn’t.

Oh, well..!
Those damned dictionaries, that’s must be the problem!
(There is no Orbanian – English, you see!! Even worse, there isn’t Orbanian – Hungarian, as I pointed out a few times earlier! Blamage!!!)

Webber
Guest

This cover by Tereskova seems appropriate:

szomszed
Guest

Yesterday I bought a watermelon in Mosonmagyarovar´s Tesco – 99 Ft/kg. We tried to grow watermelons in our garden in Rajka – it´s pretty demanding. I am afraid that it could be a problem to cover the costs at this price.

wpDiscuz