There is concern and unease hanging over the stone fruit sector, which has not seen even moderately acceptable results since 2014. The great unknown: the European markets.
This campaign’s development will be a key point for the survival of a group of operators who are barely subsisting and who are being financially harassed.
This difficult juncture is being added to by the problems caused by the state of alert and confinement that is being carried out by over a third of mankind.
A sector where its greatest stronghold lies in its exports, mainly to Europe, and which, in these circumstances, has to face up to the logistical problems of slowdown and an increase in costs due to the shortage of freight returning from Central Europe (the industrial goods that must come to the south are not being manufactured). Along with these problems is the labour reorganisation, which due to the closing of borders, this year will have to use local, unemployed workers (groups without any specialisation or experience) and the seasonal workers that are already in the country and that may be able to move between the different autonomous regions, as specified by the Spanish government.
In spite of the adverse circumstances, the sector is showing significant resilience and the hope has not yet been lost that, in these really exceptional circumstances, an unforeseen trigger could stimulate it and the campaign could turn out moderately well.
Andalusia will record a significant reduction in its volumes, going from 49 million kilos to around 40 in a campaign that has started almost 2 weeks earlier than the normal dates. The main part of the Andalusian harvest will take place during the second half of May and, by that time, according to sources from Asociafruit, in the province of Huelva and despite the steps adopted by the Central Government, they might have a shortage of almost half the personnel needed to harvest the production. In Seville, there could also be a shortage of seasonal workers that could reach 35%.
The region of Murcia will start the campaign with significant amounts of fruit around the 25th of April and it foresees a flat peach harvest of around 90,000 tonnes, between 70,000 and 80,000 tonnes of nectarines, 30,000 of red peaches and around 30,000 of apricots, of which the planted area has once again dropped.
In Extremadura, according to data from Afruex, the production, which is also early this year, has been normalised by the cold weather of the last few weeks. They expect volumes that are within normal figures, although marked by a situation where almost 2,000 hectares of plums have been grubbed out.
In the regions with later productions, such as Aragon, La Rioja and Catalonia, it is still too early to make any forecasts, as the main part of the production takes place from June onwards. The employers’ association, Afrucat, estimates that the cherry campaign will start at the end of April in La Ribera del Ebro, in Tarragona and in the earliest parts of Lerida. Meanwhile, the thinning work for peaches and nectarines is being carried out.
Spanish stone fruit exports in 2019 rose to 1.04 million tonnes, 9.4% more than in 2018 and around 1,086 million Euros, a turnover that is 1.5% lower than the previous campaign, according to data from Fepex.