Sweden/USAID FARMA II project helps preserve the quality of berries and forest fruit, mushrooms, and herbs in the Gornji Vakuf-Uskoplje region to increase farmers’ profits.
Though the temperature inside the newly installed 400 square meter cold storage in the village of Voljevac is minus 18 C, one can still smell fresh raspberries and blueberries inside. Before being stored, they were frozen in a quick freezing tunnel at minus 30.
This cooling and freezing facility, purchased and installed in mid-July 2020 with the support of the Sweden/USAID FARMA II project, now serves some 100 contracted farmers and Euro Lana, producer and buyer of berries and forest fruit, mushrooms and herbs from Gornji Vakuf/Uskoplje, Central Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Preserving the taste and quality
According to Salko Omeragić, Manager of the Euro Lana, products that they work with need to be frozen immediately after the harvest unless intended for the consumption in the next 12 to 24 hours.
“If berries and forest fruit are left unfrozen after the harvest, they start releasing juices and get soft and mushy. Freezing them immediately after the harvest is the only way to preserve their quality and the first-class product rating," he explains.
“If we freeze them immediately upon delivery from the fields and mountain forests through a quick freezing process we call 'shocking', each berry gets to be frozen individually, and it retains its full taste and scent. This is what the buyers want to get when they unfreeze them and use them to decorate cakes or to cook with them,” Salko continues.
With the new cooling facility, Euro Lana can now ensure that at least 80 percent of all their products are frozen in a timely fashion and that they remain the first-class product. For the farmers, this implies higher selling prices and for Euro Lana higher prices to 25 instead of 15 percent for a fresh or lower quality product.
Salko (32) and his brother, Zijad (35), established Euro Lana four years ago. In addition to their production of raspberries, they started buying raspberries, wild blueberries, forest strawberries, mushrooms, and wild garlic from other small farmers and collectors in the area.
"At the beginning, we managed to put together small cold storage with an even smaller freezing tunnel that was more suitable for domestic use. As we started buying more products from the local farmers, we could not handle them properly. Since we sell our products forward to the bigger buyers and exporters, we had to make daily deliveries as did many others who are in a similar business. Just waiting to offload our products in the high temperatures, we were losing on the product quality and the buy-off price,” says Salko.
Now they do not have to do that anymore and can arrange with their buyers to pick up fruit and other products with refrigerated trucks. "We can now wait to sell the products and also coordinate shipment with our customers."
Developing the network of farmers
The new facility will enable them to freeze up to three tons of fruit and vegetables a day. This will allow them to grow their business threefold and extend the network of contracted farmers.
In a good year, they are producing 20 and buy an additional 80 tons of raspberries, 60 tons of wild blueberries, 30 tons of wild garlic, 10 tons of mushrooms, and even three to four tons of wild strawberries.
The new cooling facility was installed right in time for the raspberry and wild blueberry harvest. However, with all the products they have, their full harvest season lasts from mid-April to well into November.
"Our contracted farmers trust us. We always make our payments in time, upon delivery, or at the end of the month, depending on their wishes. Now we will encourage them to produce more, and we will look to engage new farmers. This new cooling and freezing facility will bring a lot of good business to us and our community," Salko concludes.