Between 2010 and 2012, the price of lemons plummeted down to 30 cents per kilo. At that price it was hardly worth farmers picking them and so many were left to rot on the ground. Farmers therefore dug up their trees and planted more profitable crops instead. As a consequence, there are 40% less lemon trees growing in the Vega Baja these days.
A dwindling supply coupled with the problems of weather in other lemon growing regions means that the price of lemons has soared. Last year, farmers could expect 50 cents per kilo for Verna lemons. This year, the price has risen to 1.22 Euros per kilo.
By the time these lemons hit the shops, the price will have jumped to almost 1 Euro per lemon. Is it any wonder then that we are seeing so many new plantations of lemon trees.
Of course, there is the danger that the quantity of lemons grown will again rise to levels where the price drops back to those of 2010/12 - especially if the other lemon growing areas have better weather in future years.
The really big issue though is the supply of fresh water to irrigate the crops.
Unlike e.g. almonds, lemons need watering throughout much of the year and therein lies the problem. There is simply not enough water in this part of Spain and so farmers rely upon a transfer of water from rivers in the wettest parts of the country to the Segura - from the Ebro to the Tajo and from the Tajo to the Segura. Even though there is a huge surplus of fresh water in the Ebro that flows out to sea, it is the political divisions between the autonomous regions that prevents it from being transferred.
The solution to the problem was to build desalination plants like the one at Torrevieja. However, the desalination process requires vast quantities of electrical energy which is of course expensive and that makes the cost of the water produced prohibitive. Farmers would prefer to pay the price of transferred water and only supplement that, when necessary, with desalinated water.
When we moved to Spain, we wanted a garden of sorts and so the small area of land to the south of our house was left as soil. I have automatic systems that water the plants on the roof terrace, the pots on the north side and the garden to the south every day. In the summer, we add to that with the water needed to top up the pool.
I dare say that, without those areas of garden, and without the pool, my water bills would be drastically reduced. I dread to think of the cost if we had a garden area the size of the one we had in England with its carefully manicured lawns!