An avocado plantation in the Axarquía / e. cabezas

Record drop forecast as Axarquía's drought-hit avocado harvest gets under way

According to data provided by the Junta in 2021, Andalucía was the leader in national production of the fruit in Spain, but this the year the crop has been massively hit by the lack of rain and irrigation water

Eugenio Cabezas
EUGENIO CABEZAS AXARQUÍA

The avocado harvest in the Axarquia, where there are about 8,000 hectares of crops, began in mid-November with the Bacon and Fuerte smooth skin varieties and the first of more common Hass variety will start in December. However, growers and associations in the Axarquía predict a historic fall in the volumes harvested due the persistent drought affecting the area.

Agricultural associations including ASAJA, UPA and COAG, and the Spanish Association of Tropical Fruit Producers, which brings together more than 400 growers, mainly from Malaga, but also from other Spanish provinces have all predicted the gloomy results.

Its president, Domingo Medina, predicts that the harvest will probably not exceed 20,000 tonnes, compared to more than 40,000 that were collected during the 2021-2022 season. "There are more than two thousand hectares that have not been irrigated since 1 October and the rains have been almost negligible so far," explained Medina "with concern".

Abandoned fincas

He went on to say that the farmers who are not connected to the regenerated water from Vélez-Málaga’s waste water treatment plant. "The trees are surviving as best they can, with wells and water trucks, many farms are being abandoned, or people are uprooting or pruning their trees in the hope that it rains once and for all to save the plants.”

"Unfortunately, a 50 per cent drop in the harvest is not going to lead to an increase in the same percentage in the prices paid to the farmer," complained Medina. For the smooth-skinned varieties stores have started paying growers around 1.5 or 1.6 euros per kilo, which is slightly higher than last year, when they were paid between 1.1 and 1.2 euros.

As for the Hass, prices are likely to be similar to those of last season; between 2.5 and 2.8 euros per kilo. "We foresee that the price may rise this year by 15 or 20 per cent because the harvest is smaller, but it will not compensate, at all, the significant increase in costs that farmers are facing, since everything has gone up even more than double, electricity, fertilizers, supplies and diesel,” Medina points out.

Avocado growers in the Axarquia already anticipated this scenario last June, when the Tropical Association warned that the outlook could be "catastrophic" if the Junta de Andalucía reduced the allocation of water for irrigation and there was no rainfall in early autumn.

Expansion in other provinces

Avocado cultivation is witnessing a significant expansion in recent times in other areas of the province, such as the Guadalhorce Valley and the area around Ronda, as well as in other parts of Andalucía and in particular in the provinces of Huelva and Cadiz, and also in Valencia.

According to official statistics, there are currently just over 18,000 hectares of avocados are grown in Spain. Of these, according to data provided by the Junta in 2021, Andalucía was the leader in national production with 13,661 hectares, 76 per cent of the total area, and a production of 96,700 tons, accounting for 83 per cent of the total.

This area is divided between 7,450 hectares in Malaga, 2,700 in Granada, 700 in Huelva and 781 in Cadiz. However, "these statistics have already changed this year, and will change even more in the coming years, by the significant increase in planted area that are not yet producing fruit," said the president of the tropical fruit sector of Asociafruit, Jose Antonio Alconchel.