Farmers in Spain: “There will be less food and it will be more expensive”

by Lorraine Williamson

MADRID – The lives of many farmers in Spain are currently dominated by uncertainty and fear. They are facing one of the worst droughts in the past ten years. But that’s not their only problem. 

Water reserves were already 33% lower than 10 years ago at the end of July, and it is still not raining. Moreover, it is not expected to do so substantially for the time being. Diego Juste, the spokesman for the farmers’ union UPA, warns that this is just the last straw. Inflation, he says, has hit the agricultural sector hard. 

No more money for basic products 

With the current drought, prices could rise even further. “There is less production, so less food comes on the market and that drives prices up even further”. José Roales, grain farmer and president of the Provincial Agrarian Chamber of Zamora, admits that he fears “at the risk of sounding demagogic” that there will come a time when many people will not be able to buy even basic commodities. 

Roales calculates that he has already harvested 70% less this year “than in a normal year”. He assures that he is selling “at a loss” because of the high price of the plantings. Furthermore, if this continues he will have to close his business. A decision that even ranchers whose animals cannot graze on the bone-dry fields are already faced with. That will drive up the price tags even further. 

War in Ukraine 

The problems for the agricultural sector have recently followed one another without interruption. In February, the war in Ukraine was also accompanied by ever smaller harvests because of extraordinary weather conditions due to climate change and the increasing costs from more expensive energy. “We have been warning for a year of the arrival of a perfect storm,” the UPA spokesperson said. 

For example, the war in Ukraine contributed to an annualised consumer price index (CPI) of 10.8% in July. In addition, for farmers, the cost of grains, feed and fertilisers increased as a result of international sanctions against Russia. Add to that the high fuel prices: the price of agricultural diesel oil has tripled in a year and mineral fertilisers for food production have increased by 60 to 70%. 

The lack of rain, 26% below normal values, has led to the shutdown or limitation of water supplies in hundreds of municipalities in regions such as Catalonia, Galicia and also locally in Andalucia. Those restrictions also affect agriculture and livestock, which have to eat almost exclusively feed at exorbitant prices. 

Most affected are grains, olive trees, sunflowers and maize 

In terms of drought, the farmers who only use rainwater are the ones who suffer the greatest losses. One of the main crops they grow is cereals, which are also the most affected by the intense heat. The farmers predict a drop in their harvest of 20 to 40%, depending on the area in Spain where they are located. 

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Disappointing olive harvest 

Likewise, the olive harvest campaign could be very disappointing. Farmers predict a significant drop in the harvest. In Andalucia, a representative of olive farmers José Luis Oropesa warned on TVE that the price will increase by 50%. This will also have consequences for the labour market as less workers will be needed for the harvests. 

If the drought continues in the coming weeks, water supplies to irrigate crops such as sunflowers and corn could be cut off, experts warn. “A very complicated year is expected for the next planting and many farms are certainly having liquidity problems,” Fatas complained. 

Another diet 

Feed prices for ranchers have increased by 30 to 40%, but those increases are not offset by what the products are worth later on. That is why many farmers are considering removing or even closing their livestock altogether. In addition, the president of the Agricultural Association of Young Farmers (Asaja), Pedro Barato, warns that “livestock is already being slaughtered”, partly because of the need for water for the animals. 

With less production, there is also less food. What there is becomes more expensive. That can affect our diet. “It would not only be about expensive products such as meat, we could also have more difficulty buying legumes, vegetables and fruit,” adds Javier Fatás. He is a farmer and a member of the UAGA-COAG union. 

According to Union of Small Farmers and Ranchers (UPA) spokesman Diego Juste, the work of the agricultural sector is “more necessary than ever”. That’s why, he says, “we need to become more resilient”, but they can’t do it alone. “Governments must protect farmers and ranchers to avoid e to make sure no one is left behind,” he says. 

Need help in the long term 

In line with this, Pedro Barato explains on TVE that good compliance with the food chain law could alleviate many problems in the sector. Inspections should be instituted to ensure that farmers are reimbursed as a minimum for their production costs. Also, the Ministry of Agriculture should provide long-term assistance and not for two or three months to come. 

Agricultural policy reconsideration is necessary 

In addition, strategies for more efficient irrigation and the promotion of projects to find seeds more suitable for the new conditions should be developed. Ultimately, “it’s a matter of rethinking agricultural policy, promoting the primary sector and not screwing it up,” concludes Barato. 

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