Time for an agricultural revolution?

11 julio, 2011Por: Guiomar

Tiempo de lectura: 4 minutos

Recent surveys show that only around 5% of the workers in Xàbia are engaged in agriculture. Yet cultivated fields and orchards are central to the landscape of our municipality, which in turn is a key feature in attracting tourists.

When travelling through the valley we see row after row of neglected citrus trees as evidence of a crop which is no longer profitable. The Asociación Valenciana de Agricultores (AVA) recently remarked that a farmer in the Marina Alta receives the same amount of money for 13 kilos of oranges that a shopper in the Netherlands pays for just one orange.

The problem for local agriculture is not just the low price of fruit. It is systemic: There are too few young people coming into the industry (average farmer age is around 60); land which was abandoned during the era of speculation for housing development now lies fallow; and farms in this area are very small, less than a hectare in size.

So, is there a solution, or are XàbiaDBC##1s fields fated to become neglected wastelands interspersed with vegetable gardens and nurseries for garden centres?  Perhaps it is time to think innovatively about this important industry, and how it must change in a changing world.


Farmer sindicates

One approach is for small farmers to work closely together to improve the production, marketing and shipping of an existing crop. This is being tried in the valle de La Valldigna where the company AgroValldigna S.L. was formed by 23 citrus farmers representing a total of 124 hectares. The sindicate works to improve management from fruit production right through to marketing and delivery. 

Their «Arangus» website guarantees freshly picked, quality fruit, delivered to the door of consumers in major cities throughout Spain within 24 hours. It gives details of the nine different varieties of orange and mandarina they grow and when they are in season. Prices are also competitive, since there are no middlemen and the company promotes quality, freshness, fast delivery and price as key features to attract demanding consumers.


AlicanteDBC##1s new agriculture industries

Another approach is to create a new product from an existing crop. The Bodegas Xàlo recently launched a new sparkling wine made from 100% moscatel grapes, typical of this region. This yearDBC##1s supply of «Bahía de Dénia Brut Nature» consisted of nearly 10,000 bottles. According to a Xàbia wine retailer, dry moscatel is very popular among visiting madrileños, and this sparkling product could become a good seller among such consumers. Time will tell.


Sometimes all it takes is to react to changing consumer demand.  A few years back, the antioxidants in red fruits such as cranberries and tomatoes became popular health supplements. The pomegranate growers of Elche noticed this niche market and arranged for laboratory tests which confirmed high levels of anti-oxidants in their pomegranate juice. Since then they have marketed the product internationally and branched out to create and promote fruit juice mixtures based on pomegranates as healthy and refreshing summer drinks.


Innovation in agriculture

A bolder move would be to try out new crops. It is known that popular fruits such as kiwi and avocado can be grown locally. Avocados cost only 25c each from the Orba cooperativa during the season, yet even at these prices the value of the crop is so high that theft of fruit from the trees is a problem. Fruiting kiwi vines have been seen in Ràfol, though they do not seem to be sold commercially. In theory, most fruits which grow in California could grow here. What about lychees? Quote:


«Lychees grow best in South Florida, Hawaii, southern California and southern Texas. They need chilling in the winter (less than 20 degrees) but donDBC##1t like being frozen»


The conditions in XàbiaDBC##1s valley could very well be suitable. Trial plantings of different varieties would determine if this was so.


New crops do not need to be food. Paulownia is said to be the fastest growing hardwood tree in the world, it is disease resistant, easy to grow and it has great potential as firewood, as wood to make boxes and guitars, and as a fast producer of biomass to make fuel pellets. Several growers are trying the crop in Spain and recently an orchard of Paulownia has been planted near Orba. ItDBC##1s worth a trial in Xàbia. Interestingly, in their native China they are used for «intercropping» – providing shade and conserving humidity for cereals grown between the rows of trees. Perhaps here, they could be intercropped with higher value vegetables and fruit?


Some new agribusinesses happen by mistake. A few years ago an English couple bought a farm house near the Sierra Bernia and settled down to a quiet retirement. ChristineDBC##1s hobby was growing different types of iris, and by chance she found that they grew extremely well along their almond and olive terraces without irrigation or fertile soils. Her collection of plants grew as she propagated them and brought in new varieties each year. In 2006, they opened their nursery to the public and «Iris Lomer» has now become a leading supplier of iris plants throughout Europe, with a stock of over 120 varieties.


Agriculture in this region has been through many crises and changes in the past. The ruined windmills and eras de trilla which dot the landscape are reminders of times long gone when cereal crops dominated mountain terraces. Shadows of 19th Century wealth can be seen in the curved arches of riuraus, where moscatel grapes were once dried to create a raisin industry which exported to the world.


Thankfully, we still have the key resource of land. There is a solution to todayDBC##1s agricultural crisis and it will be found through human entrepreneurial innovation and aspiration.


by Chris Betterton-Jones





La agricultura de la Marina Alta cae a la mitad en los últimos dos años



Cooperativas de la Safor venden sus naranjas por internet a toda España



Bodegas Xaló da a conocer su espumoso 100% de moscatel



Zumo de Granada

Campo de Elche.com







Iris Lomer






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