© Else Beekman
Water reserves were already 33% lower than 10 years ago at the end of July, and it is still not raining and is not expected to do so significantly at the moment. Diego Juste, spokesman for the farmers’ union UPA, warns that this is just the drop in the bucket full of “problems”. Inflation, he says, has hit the agricultural sector hard.
No more money for basic products
With the current drought, prices may rise even more. “There is less production, so there is less food on the market, and that drives prices up even more”. José Roales, grain farmer and president of the Zamora Provincial Agrarian Chamber, admits that he fears “at the risk of sounding demagogic” that there will come a time when many people will not be able to buy even basic commodities.
Roales calculates that he has already harvested 70% less this year “than in a normal year”. He assures that he is selling “at a loss” due to the high price of the planting and that if this continues, he will have to close his business. A decision that even ranchers whose animals cannot graze on the bone-dry fields are already facing. That will drive the price tags up even further.
War in Ukraine
The problems facing the agricultural sector have recently followed each other without interruption. In February, the war in Ukraine was also accompanied by increasingly smaller harvests due to extraordinary weather conditions due to climate change and the rising costs due to more expensive energy. “We have been warning for a year about the arrival of a perfect storm,” the UPA spokesman said.
For example, the war in Ukraine contributed to an annualized consumer price index (CPI) of 10.8% in July. In addition, the cost of grain, feed and fertilizer for farmers increased as a result of international sanctions against Russia. Add to that the high fuel prices: the price of agricultural diesel oil has tripled in a year, and mineral fertilizers for food production have increased by 60 to 70%.
The lack of rain, 26% below normal values, has led to the shutdown or restriction of water supply in hundreds of municipalities in regions such as Catalonia, Galicia and also locally in Andalusia. These restrictions also affect agriculture and livestock, which have to eat almost exclusively feed at exorbitant prices.
Most affected are cereals, olive trees, sunflowers and maize
In relation to drought, it is the farmers who only use rainwater who suffer the greatest losses. One of the main crops they grow is grain, which is also most affected by the intense heat. Farmers are predicting a 20 to 40% drop in their harvest, depending on the area of Spain where they are located.
Disappointing olive harvest
Likewise, the olive harvest campaign can be very disappointing. Farmers predict a significant fall in the harvest. In Andalusia, representative of olive farmers José Luis Oropesa warned on TVE that the price will increase by 50%. This will also have consequences for the labor market, as less labor must be used for the harvest.
If the drought continues in the coming weeks, water supplies to irrigated crops such as sunflowers and corn could be cut off, experts warn. “A very complicated year is expected for the next planting, and many farms are certainly facing liquidity problems,” Fatas complained.
Feed prices for ranchers have increased by 30 to 40%, but these increases are not offset by what the products are later worth. Therefore, many farmers are considering removing or even completely closing their livestock. In addition, the chairman of the Agricultural Association for Young Farmers (Asaja), Pedro Barato, warns that “livestock are already being slaughtered”, partly because of the need for water for the animals.
With less production, there is also less food. What is there becomes more expensive. It can affect our diet. “It would not only be about expensive products like meat, we could also have more difficulty buying legumes, vegetables and fruit,” adds Javier Fatás. He is a farmer and a member of the UAGA-COAG trade union.
According to Union of Small Farmers and Ranchers (UPA) spokesman Diego Juste, work in the agricultural sector is “more necessary than ever”. That is why, he says, “we have to become more robust”, but they cannot do it alone. “Governments must protect farmers and ranchers to ensure that no one is left behind,” he said.
Need help in the long term
In line with this, Pedro Barato explains on TVE that good compliance with the Food Chain Act can alleviate many problems in the sector. Inspections should be launched to ensure that farmers are at least reimbursed for their production costs. The Ministry of Agriculture should also provide long-term assistance and not for the next two or three months.
Agricultural policy reconsideration necessary
In addition, strategies should be developed for more efficient irrigation and the promotion of projects to find seeds that are more suitable for the new conditions. In the end, “it’s a matter of rethinking agricultural policy, promoting the primary sector and not screwing it up,” Barato concludes.