The Alicante region of Medio Vinalopó is the place of origin of two out of every three grapes consumed on New Year's Eve in Spain. The fruit, which is under the umbrella of a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO), is grown exclusively in an area located in the municipalities of Aspe, Novelda, Hondón de las Nieves, Hondón de los Frailes, Monforte del Cid, Agost and La Romana.
Despite its popularity in the market, the constant increase in the production costs (including fertilizers, diesel, wages, water and taxes), together with the fact that it continues to be sold for the same purpose as twenty years ago, has resulted in the new generations not being attracted to continue with a crop that has ceased to be profitable.
Vinalopó's grape producers have been facing a number of problems, from climate issues to government neglect, in addition to the recent blockades at the Spanish border with France and the competition with imported products. These have led to a crisis in a sector that has usually managed to remain competitive and to differentiate itself, while giving added value to its product.
Two main factors have given the sector the final blow. On the one hand, the increase in costs, mainly due to the rise of the minimum wage; on the other hand, the increase in the price of Agricultural Insurance, which went up by more than 70% in 2019. This led the entire sector to organize protests in March in Alicante, with the mayors of all the municipalities also present. This helped make the problem visible to society, sending also a message to the Government, but it did not lead to the suspension of this "excessive increase" applied by Agroseguro and allowed by ENESA, the state-owned agricultural insurance company.
Last week, there was a new opportunity to save the sector from this unsustainable situation, when a delegation of the mayors of the region went to Madrid to have a meeting at the Ministry of Agriculture. But far from agreeing to immediate actions, the mayors were only offered proposals that they had already heard before and which are deemed insufficient, such as insurance modulation, with producers deciding the extent of the insurance coverage and thus reducing the premiums.
But the point is that in order to really help table grape producers, there are only two options, and they'll require some courage. The first one is to denounce those Spanish retailers and supermarkets that import grapes from overseas and reject the fresh, quality fruit from the Vinalopó. The second one is to fight for a greater subsidy from the Ministry so that there can be an agricultural insurance like the one before, with the same coverage.