Agriculture sector in Spain increasingly damaged by climate change

by Deborah Cater
Agriculture sector suffers due to climate change

The agriculture sector in Spain has suffered an unusual amount of damage this year as a result of extreme weather. According to insurers, the severe frost during storm Filomena and the hailstorms in the spring are a direct result of climate change.

According to figures from Agroseguro, the umbrella organisation for insurers in the agriculture sector, farmers filed a record number of claims up to June this year. €800million versus over €600million in the whole of 2019 and 2020, and €740million in 2018. In turn, insurers received €638million in risk premiums this year. This forced them to increase the premiums and request financial assistance from the Consortio de Compensación, the Spanish emergency fund.

2021 – disastrous year for farmers

In the past ten years, insurers have claimed against this fund eight times. This year, however, takes the cake when it comes to disaster for Spanish farmers. The extreme weather in 2021 has proved to be even more damaging than prolonged periods of drought.

In January, Filomena destroyed nearly 400,000 hectares of agricultural land for fruit, vegetable, almond and olive cultivation. The damage alone amounted to €339million. After that, the frost affected fruit and wine cultivation in Castile la Mancha, La Rioja, el Duero and Galicia. With the hailstorms that followed, the damage rose to about €711million by May 31. June alone saw another €72million added.

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According to Agroseguro, in recent years, severe hailstorms have occurred earlier in the year. They not only last longer, but also cover an increasingly larger area. Other meteorological phenomena such as the gota fría (heavy rain and thunderstorms) and extreme temperature differences are also increasingly common in Spain. On average, however, extreme drought still remains the main cause of agricultural damage. Previously, a prolonged period of drought occurred on average once every five years (2004-2005, 2011-2012), now it is once every two years (2016-2017, 2018-2019).

No financial safety net

Besides financial support from the Common Agricultural Policy (Política Agrícola Común), agricultural insurance is the only means for farmers to ensure profitability. Despite the increasing cost of these insurance policies, the figures show how loyal Spanish farmers remain to their business. Ten years ago there were 490,000 farmers in Spain, today there are still 420,000. Between 2016 and 2020, the total insurance they paid increased from €13billion to more than €15billion.

For the future, insurance companies are demanding there is a government instrument that safeguards the profitability of farmers. More financial resources must be made available to support farmers in the event of a disaster. The sector itself is also calling for this support. According to farmers, the consequences of climate change should not only be on their plate. The sector is also of the opinion that premium fines should be abolished when the damage incurred is not caused by the agricultural holding itself, but by external factors.

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