1,500 hectares of farmlands across San Roque, Castellar, Jimena and San Martín del Tesorillo are currently growing avocados. This has increased recently because the trade is substantially more profitable than the traditional growing of citrus fruits. The majority of the Campo de Gibraltar’s avocado production is then exported to Europe and Britain, where they are in high demand.
“It’s incredible to think that a fruit which originated in South America has been enhanced to this extent thanks to our climate here”, Juan Salido, head of the Coordination of Farmers and Ranch Organisations (COAGC) in the Campo de Gibraltar, told ReachExtra.
Salido grows avocados in San Roque and Castellar and said that this fruit is beginning to displace the traditional business of growing citrus fruits in the Campo de Gibraltar, which are also produced to a high standard but are less profitable.
So, farmers have been making the move from citrus to avocados, which is enjoying a continual growth in demand worldwide, especially among health-conscious eaters, due to its versatility and zero sugar content.
Avocado cultivation in the Campo de Gibraltar is concentrated in the municipalities of Castellar, San Roque, Jimena and San Martín del Tesorillo. According to Salido, there is around 1,500 hectares of avocado farmland, and the industry is set to become even bigger:
“The avocado has completely displaced citrus fruit cultivation in the Campo de Gibraltar, which, it must be said, are of extremely high quality, but its practically disappearing. Profits from ocitrus fruits doesn’t pay the bills like avocado sales do.”
We spoke to Juan Salido, who told us that while a kilo of oranges would sell for around €0.18, a kilo of avocados will bring in between €2.70 and €3.00. The result? In Castellar, there is now very little land dedicated to growing oranges, and in El Pinar del Rey, where Salido grows his avocado crops, has now reduced land for citrus from 90 hectares to 80 hectares.
As well as being a highly profitable crop, the region provides an ideal climate for cultivating avocados: “The Campo de Gibraltar’s microclimate is ideal for avocados, and it allows us to produce a higher quality than you’d get on the coast of Malaga. Buyers come here first before they go to Malaga because our quality is superior and both the size and fat content are greater”.
Salido told us that the Campo de Gibraltar avocados are largely sold to Europe and the United Kingdom, where there is a high demand: “Avocados grown in this area are eaten abroad. For example, my avocados go to the UK, even with the Brexit situation. I also ship them to France, Germany and countries in Central Europe. We even export to South Africa”.
Juan Salido maintains that, although the European market is able to obtain avocados from South America all year round, they tend to prefer the Spanish grown ones: “When a European goes to the market, they’ll want to know if they’re grown in Spain before buying. The quality is unparalleled thanks to the weather. It seems unbelievable that a South American crop has been improved upon so much here thanks to the climate”.
Avocado farms in the Campo de Gibraltar are typically family run but generate a lot of employment since a significantly-sized labour force is needed for pruning, harvesting, packaging and transportation.
Spanish Droughts are a Problem for the Industry
But despite the sunshine, not everything is bright. Salido says that the droughts are the main threat to avocado production in Andalucía and has placed emphasis on the situation in the Campo de Gibraltar:
“The problem we may have soon is a lack of water for irrigation due to the droughts. In our region, the situation could be catastrophic. We are already expecting a bad year. The swamps are drying up, and according to the “Drought Decree”, we would only be allowed to use 25% of the water, which would mean that my farm won’t survive on this low supply of water.”
“This would affect farmers in Castella and San Roque, and those in Jimena and Tesorillo rely on another irrigation system which comes from catchments from the Guadiaro River instead of from the reservoirs.”
So, storms like the recent “Filomena”, which caused so much damage throughout Spain, has actually been good news for farmers.
“That storm was like a shower of joy. At least 150 litres fell, and swamps have expanded about 10 hectometres, which will alleviate the situation somewhat. However, there isn’t much rain expected for the rest of the year, and it won’t just be the farmers who suffer, but also the industry as a whole and the general population in the area”.
Data in Andalucía
A report commissioned by the Junta de Andalucía’s Ministry of Agriculture on the avocado campaign between 2019 and 2020 states that the Andalusian avocado, which is renowned for its high quality, increased in terms of volume of exports during this period by 16% in relation to the previous years, and the value of exports have increased by 15%, a sum higher than €278m.
The EU received 96% of the exports, with France being the main destination; at a volume of 38% of the entire production. The Netherlands bought 17%, Germany 11% and the UK 10%.