by Daphne and Christine Schmidt, Fruit World Spain, Borriol
The current vegetable season 2017/18 is developing satisfactorily in Almería. This is good news, considering that the past season from September 2016 to August 2017 concluded with extraordinary results and a volume of 3.25 million tons worth EUR2.1 billion. This is almost 30% more in value than the average for the years 2011-2016.
This is the conclusion of the Cajamar Agricultural Bank’s seasonal report 2016/17, which is based on estimates by the Andalusian government, Soivre (phytosanitary inspection service), industry businesses and the General Customs Directorate. The ranking by product was as follows: tomatoes (837,679 t); peppers (671,363 t); watermelons (519,477 t); cucumbers (436,499 t); courgettes (350,616 t); eggplants (168,046 t); lettuce (158,289 t); sugar melons (93,804 t) and green beans (16,518 t). As a reminder, in early 2017 a cold wave that affected all of Europe led to considerable losses in production in all areas supplying the European markets, including Almeriá. At that time prices rose rapidly, so average prices at the end of the season were higher than in the previous year, except for sugar melons.
It is well known that the cultivation area of vegetables changes every year for each variety. Producers choose the products depending on the results of the previous crop year. In the 2017/18 season, peppers and tomatoes are back in first place. The organic sector continues to grow and the areas for organic courgettes, tomatoes and peppers are on the increase.
Maximum added value for vegetables
There is always a lot of movement in Almería’s vegetable sector. But maybe the mood has been a little upbeat lately thanks to the good results. In addition to new projects, the concentration of supply is making progress, albeit slowly. The five largest companies cover 40%, as announced at a conference organized by Cajamar in December. Investments are being made in the modernization of greenhouses and development of new areas, and seed companies are making great efforts to present producers with the latest innovations. In late 2017, a large number of presentations and open house events were held, all with a common goal: to provide maximum added value for vegetable products. Consumers not only want to eat, but also enjoy, which is why diversification continues. Therefore, more colors are seen in vegetables, for example mini chocolate bell peppers, which are very sweet, or mint green cucumbers. Both were showcased at the House Fair Spain 2017, organized by Enza Zaden in Santa María del Aguila (Almería) in mid-November. The differences in tomatoes still strongly focus on taste, for example the new specialty tomatoes Adora (HM Clause) and Monterosa (Semillas Fitó).
Better resistance to diseases and pests
Along with simple cultivation and good yields, progress for farmers is focused on increasing crop resistance to various plant diseases and pests. Worth emphasizing here is the presentation of Semillas Fitó’s SmartQ, an improved line of Dutch cucumbers that produces quality products on more resistant plants. In the SmartQ varieties – currently known as Tagus and Mitre – the plant has developed a polygenic resistance to the Cucurbit Yellow Stanting Disorder Virus. This means that the plant has a higher natural resistance during cultivation.
With regard to biological pest control, an area Almería has pioneered, the industry is currently at a turning point in the increasing trend towards biological pest control. This is the conclusion of Cajamar’s analysis report on the 2016/17 fruit and vegetable season. Accordingly, the area under organic cultivation has decreased by 3.3% in the 2016/17 season compared to the previous season and totals 25,715 hectares. This corresponds to 56.4% of the cultivated area of the province. Nevertheless, the use of this technology continues to increase for peppers (5.6%) achieving a rate of 99%. Of all products, tomatoes experienced the largest decline which is estimated at 16%. Nevertheless, organic farming accounts for more than 80% of the area dedicated to these products. For sugar and watermelons the use of this method has also decreased by 3.2% and 3.4% respectively. The increase of 7.1% for courgettes is particularly noteworthy, but the percentage is very small compared to the total volume. For all these reasons, there is a need to continue to invest in innovation and development in the future in order to make progress.
On the other hand, Hortiespaña, the Spanish inter-professional organization for fruit and vegetables, is continuing its marketing campaign to advertize the innovative efforts which have been made by producers and marketing sector for decades, of which consumers and the general public are often unaware. “Today, fruit and vegetable cultivation in greenhouses is one of the most sustainable production systems economically, socially and ecologically,” the association says. More than 3,000 hours of sunshine make the greenhouses virtually solar greenhouses because the sun is their energy source. The Albedo effect is also remarkable, which is caused by the bleached plastic covers that reflect sunlight. As a result, it has also been possible to reduce the average ambient temperature.
One of the challenges Almeria’s vegetable sector is facing is water. Eduardo Baamonde, President of Cajamar, explained: “Water is the biggest challenge we face, not only in Almería but throughout Spain. Although intensive cultivation is ideal in terms of efficiency – it uses 30% for irrigation and creates 70% of agricultural added value – it is essential to think about the shortcomings of the current water model in Spain in view of the water crisis. It is no longer capable of resolutely tackling the problems of available water resources, increasing demand, infrastructure, water transfers and desalination plants. And it is also necessary to think about improving the efficiency of agricultural, industrial and domestic water consumption.” Cajamar has already started to work on this and “water” will be a central element in their strategy for sustainability of the industry.