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Spain: Certification, biological control, education drive greenhouse industry

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Rural Development, Carmen Ortiz, presented in Almeria a joint study by the Instituto de Investigación y Formación Agraria y Pesquera (IFAPA and Cajamar Foundation entitled “The System Of Horticultural Production Protected In The Province Of Almeria”, which describes Almeria as the area with the highest density of greenhouses in the world where Integrated Pest Management and biological controls are used as standard techniques.

GlobalGAP certified growers
According to the report, a drive to create the best conditions to compete in the demanding international markets has led Almeria horticulturalists to achieve quality certifications for their productions. As a result, 78.7% of the farmers in the province certify their production under quality systems. More than a third of them, 34.7%, also have two or more certifications. The most commonly used standard is the GlobalGAP Fruit and Vegetables Standard (almost 49%), followed by the UNE 155001 (a GlobalGAP benchmarked scheme) for fresh vegetables for consumption and controlled production of protected crops (41.2%), and The Standard for Integrated Production (19.5%).

In addition to Carmen Ortiz, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Rural Development, the study was also presented by Jerome Perez, IFAPA President, Jerónimo Molina, Foundation Cajamar President, and Juan Carlos Gázquez, Foundation Cajamar Coordinator of Research and Development.

In her presentation, Ortiz explained that continuous growing demand for fruit and vegetables from Almeria, along with increased Good Agricultural Practices and the production of safer foods, have had a positive economic impact on the Province of Almeria. The sector now represents 90% of the value of agricultural production in Almeria, and more than 60% of the value of Andalusian horticultural production.

The area provides more than 50,000 jobs, both directly and indirectly. In total, the protected horticulture of Almeria encompasses a network of 243 companies that include handling and processing, auxiliary industries, and other business sectors, such as transport.

Increased biological control
A comparison of several studies also showed that the main transformation in recent years in the Almeria horticulture industry has been in biological controls, an area that has undergone "radical change", according to the study.

As of today, 70% of the farmers surveyed confirmed that they have put into practice biological control techniques, in comparison to the 2005-2006 survey, where barely 4% of farmers had implemented these methods. The study attributes this radical change to the phytosanitary problems of 2007. This was the turning point for farmers to begin using auxiliary fauna to combat both predators and parasitoids. Today, 97% of the growing area for crops, such as peppers, are under biological control.

More qualified growers through increased training
The study also concluded that most farmers in Almeria (81.2%) received some kind of formal training. Compared to the 2005-2006 study, the farmers surveyed demonstrated a higher education level and higher agricultural and technical expertise by pursuing specific qualifications. For example, 20.2% of farmers surveyed had completed courses on agricultural business management, while 89.3% had training in the application of plant propagation materials. Short courses were also popular with 38.7% of respondents having attended an agriculture-based training or event, and 27.1% had participated in a course on biological controls.

Naturally, the internet has had a great impact on rising levels of expertise and Good Agricultural Practices, with 42% of growers confirming that it is their most important source of information after working with a technical consultant, such as a Farm Assurer. Common issues addressed are phytosanitary treatments (97% of farmers) followed by pest control, fertilization and irrigation.

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