agriculture

agriculture
   Spanish agriculture is characterized by diversity and unpredictability. In a good year agriculture and fisheries together account for approximately 5 percent of Spain's GDP, but lower than average rainfall from 1991 to 1995 reduced this figure very significantly. Hardest hit were cereals and crops that require irrigation. Between one-sixth and one-fifth of the cultivated land in Spain is in need of irrigation to be productive, and the issue of water transfers for agricultural purposes from areas with plentiful supplies to areas with insufficient supplies has become the subject of heated debates and public protests, worsened by the nationalistic outlook of Spain's regional governments. Although Spain has for a long time invested heavily in reservoirs, water conservation is not popular with Spaniards. Despite the problems, the agricultural sector still offers employment to 8 percent of the country's workforce (not including family members who contribute their labour to agricultural enterprises), though many labourers are underem-ployed or even (as in Andalusia) in receipt of a special agricultural subsidy.
   The productivity of Spanish agriculture varies greatly. It is high in the production of horticultural products and low in the production of milk and cereals (except rice). The diversity of cultivation makes geographical characterization difficult, but in general livestock predominates in the north and west, cereals (except rice) in the centre, and fruit and vegetables in the south and east. Viticulture is widespread throughout the country, and there is scarcely a region which does not produce its own wine. Spain's undoubted agricultural strengths lie in citrus fruits (grown in the Mediterranean provinces, especially Valencia); in early vegetables (grown under glass and plastic in the south and southeast); in soft fruits (grown mostly in the province of Huelva); and in rice (grown in the wetlands of the Ebro and Guadalquivir basins, Valencia and Badajoz). There are, however, many other food crops produced in significant quantities. Spain is a major producer of olive oil, although production of sunflower oil now greatly exceeds that of the more traditional olive oil (some 10 percent of the olive crop is not pressed but marketed as table olives). Leguminous plants are also widely cultivated, notably chick peas, beans, lentils and peas. Alongside the usual root crops and tubers (potatoes, onions etc.) and salad vegetables (tomatoes, lettuce etc.) are grown other less common crops such as sweet potatoes, peppers, artichokes, aubergines, asparagus and garlic. For fresh fruit lovers Spain is something of a paradise: at some stage during the year there are available oranges, mandarins, grapefruit, bananas, apricots, peaches, nectarines, apples, pears, plums, grapes, figs, cherries, strawberries, custard apples, avocados, kiwis, pomegranates, quince, medlars, melons and water melons, as well as a variety of nuts. Crops which require industrial transformation include sugar beet, sugar cane, cotton, tobacco, chicory, aniseed, saffron, peppercorn, hemp and osier for wickerwork. Spain is the world's third largest producer of wine but its production per hectare is considerably lower than those of France and Italy. Traditionally only sherry and Rioja wines have had an international acceptance, but the huge strides in vinification technology made by Spanish wineries over the past twenty years have resulted in major quality improvements and vastly increased exports. There is, however, serious overproduction, and about one-third of the wine produced is bought by intervention and distilled (uneconomically) into industrial alcohols. If the EU's proposed quota system is implemented, Spain could be badly hit, especially in the huge but inefficient wine-producing area of La Mancha, south of Madrid.
   As far as meat production is concerned, pork is the most important product by both weight and value, outstripping beef several times over, this being partly due to the popularity and high price of cured ham. Chicken occupies second place. Goats have declined relative to other livestock and are no longer important, but sheep on the other hand, with some twenty-five million head, are bred extensively for wool and their milk goes into cheesemaking. The dairy sector, heavily concentrated in the north and northwest, where regular rainfall ensures adequate pastures, is inefficient, with average herd size scarcely into double figures. Spain imports substantial quantities of milk and dairy products, mainly from France. EU entry has on the whole been beneficial to Spanish agriculture, with farm incomes having risen steadily since entry, and by considerably more than the EU average. While some of this increase in income can be attributed to improved productivity, most of it is due to the price support system of the CAP and the devaluation of the peseta against the ECU. Agricultural products account for a very significant proportion of Spain's exports (just under 20 percent) although the value of agricultural imports in the mid-1990s slightly exceeded the value of exports (largely because of the Spaniards" insatiable demand for fish and seafood). Despite improvements in the decade to 1996, Spanish agriculture remains undercapitalized and labour-intensive and suffers from inadequate market orientation. Nevertheless, given adequate rainfall and/or assured water supplies, there are sectors, such as fruit, vegetables, olives and olive oil, and wine, where Spain could easily go on to consolidate its strengths with nothing more than improved management and informed marketing.
   Further reading
   - Chislett, W. (1996) Spain 1996. The Central Hispano Handbook, Madrid: Banco Central Hispano (chapter 5 offers a succinct account of recent developments).
   - Salmon, K. (1995) The Modern Spanish Economy, Transformation and Integration into Europe, London: Pinter (chapter 3 offers an informative survey of agriculture, forestry and fishing).
   C. A. LONGHURST

Encyclopedia of contemporary Spanish culture. 2013.

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