In the Spanish region of Aragon, meat, fish, vegetables and legumes are all usually cooked with garlic. This large consumption, however, doesn't translate into a great production, compared to other regions. In fact, only about 100 hectares are cultivated out of the 30,000 hectares that are grown nationwide.
"The number of hectares may not be relevant when compared to other regions, but still, in recent years, several companies have decided to bet on this crop, also for its marketing in Aragon," says Luis Fernando Rubio, director of the National Association of Garlic Producers and Marketers (Anpca), which has four associates who grow garlic in the region. "The crop is very sensitive to the weather, which is why it is not chosen for large-scale production in many areas of Aragon," he says. Another factor that also comes into play is the fact that it is a crop that needs rotation every four years. If you continue sowing this vegetable on the same soil after that time, the garlic becomes the breeding ground for bacteria that rot the heads. Consequently, there is a constant need for new lands and laborers with the right training to deal with the crop's peculiarities.
Because of all this, and together with the fact that garlic is a very appreciated food in Aragon, garlic has still enjoyed some success in the small family farms, despite it being avoided by the large ones. According to the Survey on Surfaces and Crop Yields (ESYRCE), published by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, garlic occupies about 50 hectares in family farms; a number that places the region as the fifth largest producer (behind Catalonia, Castile-Leon, Castile-La Mancha and Andalusia), accounting for about 10% of the total acreage in family farms.
This gives an idea of how much the product is appreciated in the region. Moreover, Aragon also has the advantage that it does not depend on exports, as is the case in other regions. All in all, "Spain produces more garlic than it consumes and, therefore, exports are essential to be able to sell the national production," says Rubio. "Now that China, which accounts for 80% of world production, has entered the international market, Spanish garlic is suffering a significant price decline, which has caused it to drop even below the production costs." Thus, given its lack of dependence on exports, "Aragonese garlic will not be as affected by the reduction in the acreage that is expected for 2019," explains the director of Anpca. Meanwhile, the regions with the largest acreage, such as Castile-La Mancha and Andalusia, which have over 20,000 hectares, will suffer a decline of between 8% and 10%, mostly due to the low profitability of the crop.
Creating a brand that the market appreciates
With the aim of making Spanish garlic stand out from the one that comes from China, the counties of Comunidad de Calatayud and Valdejalón are working to give a boost to the value of the garlic grown in their fields. Thus, for example, they are trying to bring back the red garlic of Arándiga.
"Making it easier to identify the origin is essential when you want to sell the product both nationally and internationally," says Rubio, referring to the request of the National Garlic Board, which is committed to identifying the garlic that comes from Europe. "The consumer should be aware of the fact that the safety and food quality controls that are enforced in Europe are not the same as those in place in some Asian countries, and that is why, like other sectors, we ask for their origin to be identified."