Spain: Freeze catches almond, stonefruit growers off guard

March 02 , 2016

A two-day freeze which struck Spain's eastern region in mid-February severely impacted early blooming fruit crops.

Almond crops were hit the hardest, while peach and nectarine growers also saw production affected.

In conversation with www.freshfruitportal.com, Ava-Asaja communications manager Sergio Carbó discussed Spain's weather challenges and how this exacerbated the effects of the chill on fruit crops in the region.

An almond tree in Valencia blossoming in January

An almond tree in Valencia blossoming in January

"The impact of the freeze is a result of the absolutely atypical and strange winter we've seen this year in Spain, particularly in the southern parts of the country.

Carbó said Valencia, the nation's largest citrus producing region, had experienced the hottest winter in history since the country began keeping record of its temperatures.

"This is a very important point to fully understand what is happening now. Compared to an average winter, we've seen temperatures increase this winter by an average of 2.4°C. This is a big increase.

"We've also been experiencing a period of drought for more than three years now. Between December and January this year, rainfall had decreased by 90% compared to previous years.

He said these high temperatures had very negative consequences on crops because it distorted their natural development cycle.

"This has caused problems with the fruit set which has affected the quality of the product and capacity to sell it. The entire crop isn't lost, but the quality is affected.

"Regarding citrus, which is our main crop, we haven't seen too many problems. We've had better prices than last year, but as a consequence of the heat - we experienced temperatures up to 40°C in May of last year which was a completely atypical experience - citrus trees reacted by growing smaller fruit, and production fell 22%.

"We had less volume and fewer kilograms in the end. And this in turn caused prices to rise," he said.

The freeze

The extremely high temperatures seen in parts of Spain recently had advanced the blooming season for fruit trees, in particular for almonds, nectarines and peaches.

"These trees require chilling periods below 7°C. When exposed to these chilled temperatures, particularly the almond and fruit trees, they enter a state of lethargy, and then normally blossom in May. But they never ever flower in January," he said.

"So the blooming has come quite early this winter, if you can even call this winter. It's been absolutely crazy.

He said almonds and the early season varieties had already blossomed and were already developing fruit. Nectarines and peaches had also began blossoming.

"So two weeks ago, we finally experienced winter – just two days of winter – and temperatures dropped to below 0°C.

"This freeze caught these fruit trees in blossom and already growing very young fruit, and wiped them out. This young fruit is very fragile, still in a water-like state. So these temperatures ruin fruit in this stage.

"This hasn’t happened to our citrus crops, however. Citrus can handle these freezes as long as they don’t last much longer at even colder temperatures," he said.

Fortunately the freeze only lasted two days.

"This has not been a catastrophe. There has been considerable damage in certain regions, but the freeze did not last long. We've seen freezes last much longer in the past which has resulted in significant economic losses. But it has not been a total disaster.

Carbó estimated that economic losses had reached up to eight million euros in the almond market, and one million euros in the stonefruit market.

"This situation is particularly difficult for almond growers considering that almond prices are currently very strong due to the lower supply coming from California, as a result of the drought. So the impact of the losses is doubled," he said.

The territories (comarcas) of Ribera and Utiel Requena saw the biggest impact on almond crop production in Valencia.

Murcia

The region of Murcia also saw significant impacts to its almond and stonefruit crops.

The regional government estimates that economic losses have reached 45 million Euros. Almonds, peaches, nectarines and citrus

Cieza, Jumilla y Caravacan were the areas most affected, with 7,225 hectares of almond production, 1,986 hectares of peaches, 1,289 hectares of nectarines and 823 hectares of citrus said to be affected.

Lead photo: www.shutterstock.com

www.freshfruitportal.com

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