Drought in Spain 'suffocating’ 80% of country’s farmland
Report reveals that more than 12.3M acres of grain crops have already been lost this year
Spain’s largest agricultural union released a report on Thursday warning about the crippling effect of the ongoing drought on the country’s massive agricultural sector.
The COAG Union said that the drought is “suffocating” 80% of Spanish farmland and has already led to the “irreversible loss” of more than 5 million hectares (over 12.3 million acres) of grain crops.
The union also said all the wheat and rye crops in eight Spanish regions have been virtually lost due to the lack of rainfall.
It warned that fruit trees in Andalusia, Murcia, Valencia and Catalonia are on the brink, as water restrictions “seriously threaten the viability of the trees so that many farmers will have to uproot them.”
The report identifies Andalusia, in the south, as the region most severely hit, with the main hydraulic system only 25.7% full – a 10.8% decrease compared to this time last year when the drought had already set in.
This means that the region’s rice cultivation, with produces around 320,000 tons per year, is set to practically vanish. The area’s cotton production, along with its vegetable crops are also expected to be severely impacted.
Andalusia’s iconic olive trees are also in an “extremely critical condition,” with forecasts suggesting that harvests in some areas may only reach 20% of the usual yield. Water-intensive almond trees are in even worse shape.
Across the country, extensive livestock farmers are finding it increasingly difficult to sustain their operations as grazing pastures dry up. Consequently, the union anticipates a steep rise in the price of animal feed yet again.
Beekeepers are also facing a dire situation due to the lack of vegetation and flowering plants, which significantly hamper bees’ honey production. This is the third consecutive year that the sector is set to be unprofitable, leading many professionals to abandon their enterprises.
On Thursday, Spain’s government passed €2.19 billion ($2.4 billion) worth of spending and financial assistance to help the agricultural sector cope with the drought. Of that, €784 million will go to farmers in the form of liquidity, subventions and tax breaks.
The bulk of the funds – €1.4 billion – will go towards making water more available for the agricultural sector and other Spanish consumers. That money will be invested in building desalination plants, infrastructure to reuse urban water, and other adaptations to guarantee water supply.
“It’s not enough to just offer more water, we need to manage demand, boost efficiency and work on improving water quality,” said Spanish Environment Minister Teresa Ribera at a press conference, acknowledging that climate change is exacerbating droughts and heat in Spain.
Spain is the fourth-largest agricultural producer in the EU, cultivating around 23.2 million hectares (573. million acres) of farmland, according to 2019 data from Spain’s Agriculture Ministry.