Around 'Holland day' GroentenFruit Huis/DPA organized excursions to several nurseries and sales cooperatives/APO's in Almeria, Spain. Tomato and bell pepper crops had a late start due to the heat last summer. The first significant volumes won't come onto the European market until late in October. There was some volume found at the Agroponiente auction but it was quite limited.
According to experts, last summer was the hottest on record in Almeria. In June there were times when the temperature hit 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). Tomato and bell pepper production is three weeks late. The total acreage in Almeria will be the same next season as it was this season.
Empty auction hall
The development in improving the tunnels will continue. The average area per entrepreneur is 5 acres. The logistic infrastructure has improved significantly in recent years, and in terms of appearance the area looked well taken care of. In addition, bundling and marketing/sales are becoming more professional.
Recent natural gas pipeline
One of the excursions was to Agrosol, a company owned by 3 families who cultivate coconut and rockwool, which is similar to the Dutch year-round crops of bell peppers (30%), tomatoes (20%) and cucumbers (50%). They have a total of 74 acres of multi-tunnel greenhouses. The bell pepper plants - which are the same variety as the ones used in the Netherlands - were grown in the Netherlands this summer. The company is one of the few with a boiler (propane) to keep the frost out during the winter. Recently, a natural gas pipeline was laid. In the coming years more and more entrepreneurs around Almeria will be able to make use of this pipeline. The cost price for the pipeline is very high. But this can be covered by increasing the yield of bell peppers year-round. By doing this they can get 18 kilos per square meter. Warming the greenhouses increases the cost price by 5 euros per square meter; add to that the higher labour costs for year-round cultivation and the situation becomes completely different from the traditional small-scale cultivation. These modern companies have close relationships with importers in Europe, which means in some cases a sales contract (with specified volume and price) is signed even before the seeds are planted.
Choice: office sales or auction?
At Agroponiente (€225 million turnover and a volume of 315 million kilos) the auction system was explained. A limited number of (private) shareholders determine the available property. Return on investment is achieved through continuous renewal and expansion of the logistics facilities. Within the auction the grower can choose to work with the export department (sales office) or the traditional system of selling through auction.
The auctions are all part of export companies/traders, not owned by cooperatives or farmers like in the Netherlands.
All growers must submit to the same conditions and specifications (including Global GAP) and get technical support for cultivation (including chemical control). If a grower chooses to go through the auction he can reject a sale if the price is too low and he can take his product elsewhere. The grower is thus responsible for the sale. Half of the volume within the organization goes through auction. At Agroponiente, Dutch tomatoes arrive weekly and are then sold and distributed.
Around 45% of the cultivation is united in cooperatives (producer organizations). Unlike the auction, the cooperatives are completely responsible for sales. At OP Looije SL tomato company it is very clear how supply and demand are balanced year round. The biggest challenge in the coming years will be meeting market demands, "Everything else is secondary," says grower Vincent Looije.
Unica, an APO with 9 producer organizations, was the last place visited. Unica owns 6,671 acres of the total 98,842 acres in Almeria. The cooperatives have a few central depots where customized packaging is made for the larger, mainly German, retailers. The growers and the producer organizations make use of the opportunities that the Common Agricultural Policy (Gemeenschappelijk landbouwbeleid - GLB) provides, which includes GMO subsidies.