Isidoro Carricondo, technical director of UNICA:

"Tomatoes will not be profitable if they become a commodity"

Almeria's tomato supply continues to increase as the province's campaign advances in a season in which the acreage destined for this production continues to decline.

"The area devoted to tomatoes has notably decreased in favor of peppers this campaign. It's a decrease that we noticed was increasing among our producers several seasons ago," stated Isidoro Carricondo, technical director of UNICA and tomato specialist. “This decline is due to the high labor costs and the drop in performance in the last campaigns. However, the acreage could stop falling or it might increase slightly thanks to the outstanding prices tomatoes have had so far in the fall season.”

“The tomato campaign is developing normally so far, and there is hardly any incidence of notable pests. La Tuta Absoluta disease is generally quite controlled, with the exception of some very localized spots. We've noticed a slight rebound in fungal diseases due to the last rains, but nothing significant,” Isidoro stated.

These December rains have been very welcome throughout Andalusia. The threat of restrictions on the availability of water resources for irrigation has increased for months due to the lack of water. As weeks passed, the drought in the community did not improve - as of January 5, 2022, the reservoirs in Andalusia were at only 30.73% of their capacity - and various coastal regions have used water from desalination plants to solve these issues. Spain is one of the countries that produces the most desalinated water; In fact, according to the Spanish Desalination and Reuse Association (AEDyR), in 2019 it ranked fourth in the world in total installed capacity.

“From a technical point of view, the possible problems that may come up when using desalinated water for irrigation can be solved. However, the main issue is the final cost. Thus, using this water is only profitable for certain crops with high added value,” Isidoro stated. "The OPFH are relying on the aid offered by the Operational Programs for the collection of rainwater and its use in crops, as well as a greater use of high technology and big data for irrigation according to the crops' water needs."

Almeria is the most important tomato-producing province in Andalusia and its tomato's differentiated quality is the only Spanish tomato that is currently officially recognized by a protected geographical indication. "The IGP La Cañada is a certification that we have yet to develop, despite the fact that we have a very great potential for it," the technical director stated.

Sugarino tomato.

The power of union
UNICA Group is a second-degree cooperative made up of 15 cooperatives with more than 5,000 associated growers. Last year, it was once again the largest horticultural exporter in Spain, highlighting the power of unionizing.

“The member of a cooperative can be the owner of the greenhouse, but, as a grower, he cedes the commercial management to the cooperative. The grower owns 100% of his farm and the cooperative gives him the guidelines on how to produce to improve his profitability. The same happens when that cooperative is integrated into another second-degree cooperative such as UNICA: it maintains its governing bodies, president, and manager, preserves its identity but cedes commercial management and technical control. The goal is to save costs and to be more competitive by taking advantage of economies of scale, with greater commercial muscle and with a greater supply concentration."

“In summary, the expenses in the marketing of products are reduced by 50%. In the end, all this ensures the sustained profitability of the farmer, which is the reason for being of UNICA.”

UNICA's Healthy tomato Box.

Taste over convenience
Since its inception, the cooperative has committed to R+D in all its products, including tomatoes, stated Isidoro Carricondo. "We have sought new varieties with new flavors and more sustainable and environmentally friendly packaging, always aligned with our customers' needs and trying to anticipate the demands of the end consumer."

"The search for profitability in tomatoes inexorably involves avoiding commoditization by producing tomatoes that differentiate us in the market. There's no doubt that flavor is essential to achieve this differentiation, even more than convenience.”

“We also need to value aspects such as the production's sustainability. We must promote and let conscious consumers know our values (European origin, the working conditions of the employees, the fact of being a social economy company because it is a cooperative...). In short, everything that prevents them from only being guided by price,” he stated.

For more information:

Isidoro Carricondo
UNICA's Technical Director
Avd. de la Innovación, 15Ed. Pitágoras Planta 2, Áreas C-D
Autovía A-7, Salida 460
04131 Almería (España)
Tel.: +34 950 18 15 00

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