Drought threatens milk and olive oil production in Spain

by Lorraine Williamson
milk production
del canto chambers 2

MADRID – Consumers are experiencing difficult times. The war in Ukraine, energy prices, and the ongoing impact of the distribution problems stemming from the movement restrictions due to COVID in 2020.  In addition, the drought situation is causing problems for the production of milk among other items.

There are many causes for the unstoppable rise in the price of groceries, but not the only ones. The ongoing drought due to climate change threatening the planet is also pushing up the prices of some products and endangering the production of others, such as beer or milk. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), it takes 106 litres of water to produce a pint of beer (20 millilitres); a litre of beer, therefore, needs 530 litres of water. 

Spanish dairy farmers in trouble 

Fernando Valladares, a researcher at the Higher Council of Scientific Research (CSIC), says, “a cow needs more than 100 litres of water per day for the production of milk.” Many farmers have already had to close their businesses due to the increase in the price of their products. Across Spain – as the report from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food shows – 735 dairy farmers closed in one year, from 11,653 in the summer of 2021 to 10,818 this year. 

The area where the most closures have occurred — just over 48% of the country’s total — is Galicia, where 354 farmers have ceased operations in one year. In addition, as they come from this region, a dairy farm in Galicia closes every day. 

The drought situation is worrying not only in Spain but also in Europe. To make the product cheaper, Spain is forced to import milk from Europe, as Valladares points out. “But since other European countries are also experiencing severe drought, we will probably start importing from the US and China.” 

The lack of rain is especially pronounced in southern France, Switzerland, northern Italy, Hungary, Moldova, Ukraine and Romania. 

According to the FAO, 70% of the Earth’s freshwater — rivers and underground reserves — is used for agriculture and livestock. The remaining 30% goes to industry (20%) and for domestic use (10%). The FAO itself estimates that this sector needs about 100 times more water than what we use for personal purposes. 

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Within the food sector, the meat industry requires a much greater amount of water than vegetables. The FAO estimates that the production of 1 kilogram of meat requires between 5,000 and 20,000 litres of water. If we compare these figures with those of the agricultural industry, the production of 1 kilogram of a cereal such as rye requires between 500 and 4,000 litres of water. 

Among the foods that require less water for their production, we find tea, beer and wine. Plant-based foods require much less water compared to meat production. 

Olive oil production is also in trouble 

The forecasts for olive oil production for this year are also by no means optimistic. The 2022-2023 season will yield 587,000 tons. That represents a decrease of 49.1% compared to the final production of the previous and 47.5% of the average of the last five campaigns. This is evident from the harvesting capacity established by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development of Andalucia.​ 

Production 60% lower 

The culprits? That’s the “sustained drought” and above-average temperatures, especially during the flowering months, to which added the “water stress” suffered by the crop, especially the dry land. No province is spared and it is even worse in Jaén, the world’s largest producer of olive oil, where the capacity provides for a production of 200,000 tons of olive oil, 60% less than the previous season. 

Related post: Drought threatens Andalucian olive cultivation 

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