Famous Pata Negra ham threatened by the climate crisis

by Lorraine Williamson
Pata Negra ham

PROVINCIA DE HUELVA – The climate crisis threatens the future of Iberian ham. “We are focused on the demise of the sector,” it sounds. It is expected that the famous ham of the Iberian pig will become scarce in the coming years and will increase in price. 

According to Cadena Ser, numerous growers have expressed themselves in these terms in various interviews. The drought experienced by Iberian ham-producing regions such as 15,000 animals (20%) being slaughtered less this year than last year. 

The drought reduces both the land on which the animals can graze and the number of acorns available to feed them all. The Iberian pigs feed on the so-called ‘dehesas’, meadows with lots of herbs and the fruits of the holm oaks. As a result, producers have to reduce the number of pigs they work with and thus lower their profitability. Especially considering that production costs have increased considerably since last summer, and has put the sector in serious difficulties. 

Rodrigo Cárdeno, a producer of the famous Spanish Pata Negra ham, told Cadena Ser that the pigs are too light to be slaughtered. “We are talking about an animal that has to come in October with 90 kilograms and leave in January with a weight of about 150 kilograms.”

“Demise of the Industry” 

That combination of factors has led Ilunion Ibéricos de Arzuaga’s manager, Emilio Muñoz, to state that “we are focused on the downfall of the industry because our expenses are equal to revenues and that is disastrous”. According to Cadena Ser, the growers expect that the highly valued product, both in Spain and far beyond, will become much scarcer and therefore much more expensive. 

Holm oaks in trouble 

According to Francisco Esparrago, president of another ham company, holm oaks are native to humid climates. “Those trees are a remnant from the time when the climate here was different from now”. 

Cogesa Expats

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The climate crisis is reducing the production of these trees in regions such as Extremadura and northwestern Andalusia, where many producers of Iberian ham are located. Those trees are later essential for the production of the ham of the black pigs that feed on the acorns. 

“The trees are struggling to get through the long, hot and dry summers we’re having now,” Asparagus explains. He also expects the coming summer to be the worst in the 40 years he has worked in the pastures due to the drought last summer and the winter with relatively little rain. 

Importing acorns as a solution? 

Given the lack of acorns, Iberian ham producers could import them from third countries such as Morocco or Algeria. According to Espárrago, there is a risk for the Spanish industry of new diseases. Something similar happened in 1993, when insects such as the red palm weevil, imported from Egypt, destroyed tens of thousands of palm trees in Spain. 

Iberian ham is increasingly scarce 

Therefore, if the climate crisis continues to worsen in the coming years, Iberian ham will become increasingly scarce. People in the sector even estimate that there will be between 30%-40% fewer animals this season. Something that makes the product scarce and also much more expensive than it is now. 


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