Although the past campaign ended with the highest average prices in recent years, the crop is significantly losing out against competitors such as Morocco and Holland
Although Spain continues to be at the head in greenhouse tomato production volume with 44% according to Eurostat, other producers around us are catching up at top speed. The Spanish tomato sector is not what it was. You only have to look at the evolution of this crop over the past few years. From 2002 to 2015, the export quota for Spanish tomatoes for the very important market of France has plummeted, from 45% to 24%, whilst the Moroccan quota has seen an appreciable growth, rising from 37% to 55%. If we look at European fruit and vegetable imports as a whole from 2000 to 2016, it can be seen that Morocco has reached a figure of 163%, followed by Holland, which has also increased its commitment to this produce, specifically 58% compared to a meagre 4% from Spain.
Several factors are behind this. On the one hand, the disparity between labour costs in the different producer countries, a factor that makes up 40% of the greenhouse expenses and that for Spain mean an average of 7.17€/hour of gross wages, as opposed to 0.60€ in Morocco. Bridging this huge 91% gap between one and the other is impossible, just as impossible as it would seem for us to approach Holland’s yield, which thanks to the modernisation of its greenhouses, produces 506 Tonnes/Hectare compared to Spain’s 95. A third factor added to this is climate change and the rise in temperatures, which mean that more and more countries are advancing and/or delaying their productions, in such a way that “we are being pushed into the corner of the period from November to February,” shortening the commercial window, as the chairman of Fepex, Jorge Brotons, warned, during the seminar “The main challenges of greenhouse horticulture,” organised by Coexphal in Aguadulce (Almeria),with the collaboration of Cajamar and Hortiespaña.
In spite of what has been said up to now, it is not all bad news. On a worldwide scale, in 2016 Spain was the third exporter of this fruit after Mexico and Holland, covering 12.19% of the world total with 907.62 million kg. Additionally, according to Fepex, there has been a stabilisation in the value obtained compared to the previous year, with 959.5 million euros.
2016/17 has been a good campaign. The value of the production has been boosted by the scarcity of produce at certain times during the campaign (winter), reaching an average price that was 37% higher than the previous campaign in the main producing area, Almeria, which is responsible, along with Granada, for 70% of the sales of Spanish tomatoes to the EU. In particular, last year the province recorded a tomato production of 1,008,867 Tonnes (-8%),and the farmers received 730 million euros (+25%) for their produce, the highest average price of recent campaigns, according to the Report on the Fruit and Vegetable Campaign in Almeria by the Andalusian Government.
Other producing areas such as Murcia and the Canary Islands have seen how the number of companies growing this crop has dropped, in favour of other alternatives such as peppers, early stone fruit and papayas. Clear examples of this are Mazarrón and Águilas, where the crop surface area dropped by 28% between 2009 and 2014. And the Canary Islands have lost over two thirds of the planted surface area over the past 20 years, according to the Federación de Exportadores Hortofrutícolas de Las Palmas (Federation of Fruit and Vegetable Exporters from Las Palmas -FEDEX) and the Asociación de Cosecheros Exportadores de Tomates de Tenerife (Association of Tomato Harvester Exporters of Tenerife -ACETO). In spite of this, Murcia continues to be the second tomato-exporting province, with 98.41 million kg in 2016, whilst Las Palmas de Gran Canaria has reached 4th place with 48.6 million kg.
As we can see, ‘tomateros’ are not yet giving up and in order to climb back up they must face up to some important challenges: solving the problem of the lack of water, organising the offer, opening up new markets, continuing to diversify the offer… However, the most critical factor concerns the actual greenhouse infrastructure and the need to fit it with technology to become more competitive, obtaining the maximum yield from the plants. Barriers which, although they are difficult, must be overcome to guarantee the future of the sector.