José María Martínez Vicente, director of Cambayas Coop.V
Back then, artichokes were the most important crop in the production area close to the town of Elche, although over time it was observed that the small frosts that are recorded in the area did not guarantee the crop's profitability. Today, pomegranates are undoubtedly the most important representative of Elche's agriculture.
After a fire in 1999, which burned most of the facilities, the partners decided to convert Cambayas into a cooperative, making it thus eligible to receive more subsidies from public administrations, both to recover from the catastrophe and to reorganise the business. They then abandoned the cultivation of many crops and decided to focus on seven products: pomegranates, lemons, oranges, broccoli and cauliflower in autumn and winter; peppers, watermelon and figs in summer.
Mollar pomegranates from Elche packed for supermarket chains
50% of Cambayas' production corresponds to pomegranates, with about 700 hectares devoted to this crop, making it the largest producer in Spain. "We started our campaign with the Valenciana variety, of which we produce 90% of Spain's total volume. It is pink, both on the outside and the inside. The second variety we harvest is the traditional Mollar from Elche, whose external colour is not as appealing as that of the Valenciana, but which, in our opinion, has the most delicious flavour on the market," explains José María Martínez, director of Cambayas.
Mollar pomegranate from Elche with the seal of the PDO.
"In recent years, we have also been planting earlier varieties with a better internal and external colouration: the sweet-flavoured Acco variety, which is characterised by a smaller calibre, and the Wonderful variety, whose campaign overlaps with that of the Mollar, and which has a sourer taste and a good calibre. We have been expanding the acreage devoted to these two varieties since we started planting them seven years ago. The combination of Wonderful with Mollar from Elche is highly demanded by the juice industry because of its perfect balance between sweetness and sourness," he affirms.
Wonderful variety pomegranates
"At the moment, there is a proliferation of new varieties worldwide. We are also registering varieties and we continue conducting research for their development in our own nurseries. We think we have enough varieties right now, and we don't want to confuse consumers. We believe that, in terms of flavour, it is impossible to improve the Mollar from Elche. We would have the perfect variety, if we obtained a variety with the same flavour and a more intense colouration. Some of the new varieties registered meet these conditions."
The harvest of the last Mollar and Wonderful pomegranates, which will be stored in chambers until the end of January, is now complete. "This year, we have harvested around 10% less than in the previous one. The drought has taken a toll on the calibre of pomegranates this year; we have had smaller calibres, especially in the case of the earlier varieties, such as the Valenciana and Acco. It has rained only when the pomegranate was very ripe in the tree, almost at the end of the season, so the quality has been affected during the last days of the harvest. As a result, there will be a slightly higher amount of second class pomegranates and of fruit for the processing industry due to its external appearance."
According to José María Martínez, many growers have abandoned the cultivation of citrus crops and made the switch to pomegranates, some in an uncontrolled manner. "We receive calls from producers in other areas of Spain who are trying to sell us their pomegranates when they are in season. One shouldn't plant and then go looking for buyers, because you may run into a problem selling the goods. We have noticed that this problem has been getting worse in recent years. Prices do not rise, but at least they remain profitable."
Cambayas ships its pomegranates to EU markets and to distant destinations, such as South East Asia, the Middle East, the Arab Emirates, Canada and Brazil, where more and more volumes are being exported to compensate for the loss of the Russian market, which absorbed around 20% of the fruit. "We do not believe that we are going to recover this market," asserts José María Martínez.
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