They say you can't eat too much fruit but you can certainly grow too much.
In the Vega Baja region 47,000 metric tonnes of citrus fruit were grown this year and the majority of it has been left to rot. Only a small percentage of producers have bothered to pick their fruit in what should have been a bumper year for growers.
Growers would normally be picking their crops of oranges, lemons, tangerines and clementines towards the end of January to mid-February. The conditions were very favourable with mild temperatures over the winter, sunshine and wet conditions. The result was a a bumper crop.
In fact with advice from growing associations and new hybrid varieties being cultivated the yearly yield in the citrus sector has become a victim of its own success. There were just too many oranges out there and the price has subsequently dropped.
Growers are paid between 5 and 9 centimos a kilo for their citrus fruit. It costs 15 centimos a kilo to produce. Suppliers are charging manufacturers and sellers 51 centimos a kilo and at the point of sale the average price of citrus fruit is €1.32. That is a mark-up of 2,540%.
California suffered a spell of freezing weather in January that obliterated their, usually healthy, crop of oranges so Spain has exported 150,000 metric tonnes of oranges to America to make up this shortfall and still fruit is rotting in the fields.
When interviewed, a farmer’s wife in Albatera said, “We would normally employ casual labour to pick for us but it’s not worth the cost. We can’t compete with imports from Morocco even though we employ Moroccans to pick for us.” That is approximately 20 pickers unemployed this season. The farmer makes no money and nor do the itinerant workers who move around relying on picking for their livelihood. Albafruits has suffered as well. They are the central distribution point for the fruit in Albatera, the whole economy of the town has become subdued. “We won’t be spending any money,” she said. “We have to look to the future and if things do not improve who knows how long our farm will survive especially at our age.” In their fifties and managing approximately ten hectares of fruit trees there is just the two of them to prepare the trees for the next crop. Standing there, amongst the trees, on a rainy, cold March day the sound of flies buzzing under the canopy of leaves was ever present. This year there will be an excess of flies if nothing else. Without effective support the rural way of life on your doorstep may soon no longer be economically viable and that could mean more land owners selling up to developers as trees are bulldozed to make way for concrete and golf courses.