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Crisis in Spanish stone fruit sector

Drop in demand, excess production and barriers to exports

Last season, the top fruit sector, and especially that of stone fruit, suffered one of the worst crises of the last decade, with prices at origin below 20 cents per kilo which did not even cover the production costs.

In order to tackle this, agricultural organizations and the Administration proposed new measures, such as the elimination of cultivated areas and the limitation of new plantations based on market needs, production costs, climate change and the availability of water for irrigation.

The closure of Russian borders to EU exports in 2014 forced the sector to look for alternative markets for some 120,000 tonnes that were exported directly from Spain. To mitigate the negative effects of the closure of the Russian market, Brussels launched various support measures, such as the withdrawal of fruit from the market to avoid surpluses.

However, Europe's crisis with Moscow is not the main obstacle for the sector. One of the most important problems affecting the stone fruit sector is the expansion of the acreage devoted to such crops. While in the case of pears and apples the acreage has been reduced since 2010, going from 61,000 to just 54,000 hectares, in the case of stone fruits there has been an increase of 6%, from 138,000 to 147,000 hectares, especially in Catalonia and Aragon.

This development of the acreage has already been reflected in the average productions. While in the case of pears and apples it has gone from 1.2 million tonnes to only one million, that of peaches, nectarines and apricots has increased from 1.5 million to more than 1.8 million tonnes, actually reaching over two million in 2014.

Another serious problem for the sector is the implementation of new stone fruit varieties, especially of peaches and nectarines, which increase the yield per hectare. But this has been done without taking into account the demands from the consumers, which in many cases has led to the fruit being rejected. The consequence of all this has been the fall in the demand for fruits in general, and especially for stone fruit, which has dropped from more than six kilos to four per person per year.

This fall in the demand, coupled with excess production and barriers to exports, have driven the market into a serious crisis, and the chances that things will get even worse are not at all small. In this scenario, the producer sector, agricultural organizations and cooperatives have proposed a plan with a dozen measures.

First of all, there is a need for a farm abandonment program, which will especially affect older people and the older farms. Added to this, a limitation of new plantations is also foreseen. There is a market problem, but also a more serious one of water shortages. The sector requires the constitution of an interprofessional organization, as well as a better management of the supply by cooperatives and larger producer organizations, and greater support for family farms.

As far as consumption is concerned, they advocate giving a boost to promotions and improving the functioning of the food chain. There should also be a greater commitment on the part of the producers to improve the quality of the product marketed, from the label to its organoleptic conditions. Likewise, a greater internationalization and diversification of exports is required. There should also be short-term measures, such as the granting of soft loans and improvements in taxation.

For its part, the Federation of Producers and Exporters of Fruits and Vegetables (Fepex) warns about the need to take into account the situation of each territory, as well as of each variety and product, including their market situation, before adopting any measures. The sectoral organization understands that it would not be logical to set limits on the acreage for crops with a very low market share and for which there are possibilities for growth. Fepex also claims that the operational funds managed by producer organizations, some 40 million Euro, should be used more for investments than for farm abandonment measures.


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