The arrival of new operators and proliferation of cultivation areas mark the keys to the future during an incredibly wet year
The 2018 campaign has started off with several setbacks in the asparagus area par excellence, the Vega de Granada, ruining the entire month of March. The flooding of around 1,200 hectares of crops due to the overflow from the Cubillas reservoir and the damage caused by frost in the small hours between the 20th and the 21st of March meant a tough setback for the producers, who have yet to finish quantifying the damages. But this is not all. The fact that it has rained for virtually an entire month without stopping has caused serious damage to the production. At the Unión de Pequeños Agricultores (UPA), they have quantified the losses at around 40 million euros. A situation described as “traumatic” by UPA’s secretary in Granada, Nicolás Chica, as the sector has seen how a third of the harvest has been lost. And, worst of all, this happened on the dates when the prices were reaching their peak. So much so that when carrying out the interviews for this Special Edition, many of the companies have not to dared to forecast figures for this campaign. We must wait for them to finish calculating their respective damage results to find out whether the volume estimated by the Delegation for Agriculture from the Junta de Andalucia prior to this ‘crisis’ of 69 million kilos, is a long way from the reality or not.
What we can inform is the planted surface area, 6,466 hectares, with which Granada repeats its dominance in the green asparagus segment, not only in Spain, but also in Europe. A well-deserved position, but one that is beginning to take its toll, since today it is virtually impossible to find areas to continue planting in the most traditional regions (Huétor-Tájar, Loja, Villanueva del Mesía…) and, in addition to this, the crops are hardly rotated to regenerate the soil, which impairs the yield and can affect the quality. Therefore, it is not surprising that the operators from Granada themselves are looking for new areas to plant. The number of asparagus farms in Seville, Malaga (mainly in Antequera, but also in Cartama, Coin…) and Cordoba is growing and more than one farmer has set their sights on northern Almeria to start growing for the next campaign. The surface area is also increasing in other communities such as Extremadura and Castilla-La Mancha, where new operators are multiplying the offer, as they see a reasonably profitable diversification in this produce.
Could this increase in offer have a negative effect on prices? This is a possibility contemplated with some misgivings by the traditional asparagus-growing companies. Because consumption, on the one hand, is a rising trend, although it continues to be limited (20% in Spain in the peak production months) and on the other hand, due to ignorance about the crop and the markets can ruin the quality and the prices. With good reason, in recent years, farmers have started to notice that the ‘delight’ regarding the first prices has not continued. The ‘blame’ is placed on counterseason imports of Latin American asparagus. Spanish consumers do not have to wait for the start of the Spanish campaign to eat the produce. They can see it now on the supermarket shelves all year round, and additionally at the start of the Spanish campaign Mexican asparagus coincides on these shelves, causing an imbalance in the prices, which tend to drop. Likewise, ignorance means that, in most cases, people do not know how to value the quality (better than imported produce), and want to pay more for it. In the rest of Europe, the quality leads operators to ‘take the plunge’ regarding Spanish asparagus when the first harvests are just starting (as well as its greater sustainability due to the carbon footprint).
The demand for smaller calibre asparagus (8-12 and 12-16) in Europe is increasing at the expense of the thicker calibres. And the fact is that EU consumers, previously more used to eating white asparagus, have started to appreciate the flavour offered by smaller calibre green asparagus (with lower water content). Along with this reason, there are other more practical ones: the fact that households have fewer members along with the economic factor. For this reason, companies are starting to offer formats that weigh less (mainly 200 grams). The sales of asparagus tips are also on the rise, an easy option that allows easy consumption and saves cooking time.