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Spain: Greenhouse fever in Murcia

Greenhouse agriculture continues to spread across the Spanish region of Murcia. There are already 5,584 hectares of greenhouses, 31% more than in 2012, when the acreage stood at just 4,250 hectares, according to data released last week by the Region. It is the equivalent of 7,820 football fields. For their part, the field surveys carried out by the Ministry of Agriculture increase the figure to 5,860 hectares, to which we must add another 375 of nurseries, so the total area would amount to 6,235 hectares.

Murcia thus consolidates its position as the second region with the largest permanent greenhouse acreage devoted to vegetables, above the Canary Islands. Only Andalusia remains overwhelmingly ahead, thanks to Almeria (31,931 hectares), whose structures can actually be seen from the International Space Station. According to the Ministry, the national total is 65,674 hectares, including fruit trees, flowers and nurseries.

Since 2012, permanent greenhouses have been set up on 1,334 new hectares in the Region (equivalent to 1,878 football fields), 506 of which last year, according to data from the Council of Water and Agriculture.

Prices have become relatively affordable for producers. As a reference, a greenhouse hectare in the Region costs an average of 43,400 Euro, according to the Council, although there are cases in which the price goes above 65,600 Euro. Just before the recession, the average value reached 70,000 Euro, with peaks of up to 85,000 Euro. And if we go back fifteen years, it was not uncommon for more than 105,000 Euro to be paid per hectare.

The Council pointed out that the main crops grown in greenhouses are tomatoes (2,396 hectares in Aguilas, Mazarrón and Lorca), peppers (1,220 hectares in Torre Pacheco and San Javier), table grapes (919 hectares in the Guadalentín Valley, Molina, Las Torres de Cotillas and Abarán), courgettes (280 hectares distributed across the Region) and flowers (210 hectares in Cehehín and Puerto Lumbreras). Fruit trees, such as cherry trees and papaya trees, are also gaining ground in this sector.

Large companies such as G's España, Agromediterránea, Florette, Grupo Paloma, Perichán or Looije, as well as cooperatives like Alimer, Hortamira, San Cayetano, Gregal, Coaguilas and Canaraflor, among others, have contributed to the expansion of greenhouses in the Region. The experimental centre El Mirador, located in San Javier and managed by Fecoam, is helping spread this cultivation technique.

The Institute of Development (Info) emphasises that, after four decades of experience, Murcia has a "spectacularly competitive" agricultural technology, able to compete head to head against veterans like Israel, the Netherlands and the United States.

Much of the effectiveness of the greenhouses manufactured in the Region is a result of the automated air conditioning and irrigation systems that they incorporate. Their structures use less metal to reduce costs and offer all kinds of protective solutions: chapel greenhouses, sawtooth, Venlo or Dutch type, Almeria type greenhouses, mini tunnels, multi tunnels, etcetera. Together with these manufacturers, a major plastics industry has developed in the Region.

Parallel to the marketing of prefabricated greenhouses, Murcia has regained its national leadership in the sale of automated fertigation systems, which it had already achieved in 2014, followed by Madrid and Valencia. The range of materials used for such systems is wide: pipes, sprinklers, nebulizers, hoses, drippers, solenoid valves, water meters, sensors, irrigation programmers, automatisms, control software, etc.

Such advances are not going unnoticed abroad and, since the 1990's, are demanded by a wide variety of countries. Between January and July, the export of greenhouses and fertigation systems generated a turnover of 40,683,240 Euro; 20.5% more than in the same period of 2016 (the total for that year was 58,336,080 Euro), reports the Institute of Foreign Trade (Icex).

Of the revenue generated during the first seven months of the year, 26,096,290 Euro correspond to structures and 14,586,950 Euro to irrigation equipment. A total of 64 firms export this technology, which put Murcia as the leading Spanish province overseas.

Who buys from the Region? Apart from Andalusia, the Region of Valencia and the Canary Islands, this year, five countries are involved in the accelerated modernization of their agriculture: Egypt (10.1 million), Azerbaijan (4.1 million), Iran (3.8 million), Mexico (3.7 million) and Morocco (3.1 million). They are followed by Latin American countries, such as Peru, Dominican Republic, Brazil and Chile, as well as Algeria, Ivory Coast, Finland, Bulgaria, France, Portugal and Turkey.

Info highlights that the market increasingly demands more and more turnkey projects, which include both the assembly of greenhouses and the setting up of air conditioning and fertigation processes which can be controlled from a computer, tablet or even from a smartphone.

This ability to make projects a reality from scratch is most appreciated by Iberian American and African countries, many of which are weighed down by their shortage of agronomist engineers.


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