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Unprecedented rainfall threatens Spanish growers

28/04/2010

Spanish vegetable season review

Spanish vegetable production is of enormous importance to the UK market. We import around 40% of the vegetables we consume, and we rely on countries such as Spain to account for much of this amount.

Whilst you’d think that the Spanish weather is a little more consistently predictable than our own weather, it still produces a number of surprises which can have a huge impact on the supply of vegetables from Spain. Weather is one of the biggest factors affecting prices and quality, which reflects on prices and availability in the UK. The 2009/2010 winter season has seen some of the most challenging conditions for Spanish farmers that we have ever seen, leading to short supply and price volatility.

UK importer Mack Multiples has a dedicated vegetable technologist working in Spain on their behalf. Daniel Boakes works with growers to help them ensure they meet the rigorous technical, environmental and ethical requirements of the UK market. He supports growers with meeting the agronomic and technical demands of the market including; pesticides, auditing, quality management, innovations and trials of new varieties and growing techniques on behalf of Mack and their retail customers. Technologists like Daniel are specialists in modern horticulture and offer a valuable service to growers around the world.

Daniel explains some of the complexity of recent weather conditions in frank terms. “Autumn here was unusually hot and seemed to go on for a particularly long time with high temperatures running into early December. This put crops under stress, over producing in the autumn leaving them drained of energy for the important early winter months.”

“Even though well planned steps were taken to reduce our risks by having strong geographical spread, multiple countries of origin and new plantings, everywhere we turned crops were facing the same issues,” continues Daniel. “In mid-December, Spain was hit with heavy rain, cold temperatures and unusually low light levels which meant that we had big problems on product availability and quality, and given the shortage of product, prices went very high indeed.”

The high rainfall continued throughout January and February to the extent that Almeria, for example, received three times its average rainfall for the period – more rain than they’ve seen for 60 years. Even though Spanish courgette crops are protected by plastic covered structures, they have been ineffective against the volume of water, humidity and light levels of this winter. Research and government bodies are backing growers to invest in better structures which will allow growers to manage seasons like these more effectively in future. This season, courgette plantings in December should have continued producing until early May but the plants were abandoned in early /mid March having yielded half their expected volumes due to the consistently wet conditions. It became economically unviable to continue with a crop of such poor quality and volume.

To stick with the courgette example, Spanish growers often make very good money on their crop through the December to February period should they have the volume, which helps to offset any losses incurred in autumn and spring when prices are low. Given that the weather has turned against the growers this year the 2009/10 season has been one of the worst seasons for Spanish farmers in living memory.

The problems aren’t restricted to Spain – countries such as Morocco and Egypt were affected adversely too, and the cold snows of the winter in the UK caused some great difficulties for British brassica growers, for example. Vegetable prices remain high at present, giving opportunities for some growers who have been lucky geographically to avoid the worst of the rain, and some crops such as potatoes thrive in wet conditions.

What’s particularly interesting here will be to follow the weather patterns over the next few seasons and to analyse any emerging trends. As an expert on the ground, Daniel notes a feeling of reluctant resignation amongst his growers. “Whilst farmers resign themselves to the inevitability of the occasional exceptionally poor season, and they look to adjust their structures, growing techniques and varieties to adapt to changing climatic conditions, they will have high expectations for better market conditions and a cold but drier winter later this year.”

For further information and high resolution imagery from this article, please contact:

Judy Whittaker, Communications Manager, Fresca Group Ltd. 01892 831280
judy.whittaker@frescagroup.co.uk

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