NewsWhy are there fewer olives in Spain and mustard...

Why are there fewer olives in Spain and mustard in France?

Last July was the sixth warmest in Europe, with local and national record temperatures in the west and north of the continent during the heat wave, according to the European Copernicus observing service.

In addition, in Europe last July was the driest month on average, with record low rainfall in the continental west and droughts in various regions of the southwest and southeast. These conditions are affecting the economy locally, especially sectors such as agriculture.

Thus, crops that are so traditional for the lives of Europeans, such as Spanish olives or mustard in France, are being affected.

Spain runs out of its ‘green gold’

In scorching heat, Felipe Elvira inspects the branches of his olive trees, which stretch as far as the eye can see on a dusty hill in southern Spain. “In these, there are no olives. It’s all dry,” he throws worried.

Owner with his son of a 100-hectare farm in Jaén, the cradle of olive oil in Andalusia, this 68-year-old olive grower is at risk of losing a large part of his harvest due to the extreme drought in the country.

“Here we are used to drought, but to this degree, no,” sighs this sixty-year-old with a plaid shirt, white hair and bushy eyebrows. “Before, 800 liters of water per square meter per year fell. Now we are going to have 300 or 400 liters, nothing more… It rains less and less,” he laments.

On the front line of Europe in the face of the effects of climate change, Spain has suffered three exceptional heat waves since May, which have further weakened crops that had already suffered a drier-than-normal winter.

“Olive trees are trees that are very resistant to water stress,” explains Juan Carlos Hervás, an agricultural engineer at the COAG agricultural union. But when there is extreme heat “they activate physiological mechanisms to protect themselves: they don’t die, but the production doesn’t take place,” he adds.

Very bad news for olive growers in the region. “In dry land (without irrigation), we will not reach 20% of the average production of the last five years. And in irrigated land, we will have 50 or 60%,” predicts the technician.

The water reserves, indeed, are anemic. “The supply of water in Andalusia depends on the Guadalquivir basin, which supplies almost the entire region”, which is in “an absolutely dramatic situation”, underlines Rosario Jiménez, professor of hydrology at the University of Jaén.

According to the Ministry of Ecological Transition, the reserves fed by the river and its tributaries are currently only at 30% of their capacity. Some reservoirs “have even dropped to levels of less than 10%, or are already practically dry,” insists the researcher.

A consequence of climate change and its extreme weather episodes, which farmers in the region have been observing for years. “Every time it rains less than before and when it rains, it does so torrentially: it produces a large runoff, and the land doesn’t have time to store it,” explains Juan Carlos Hervás.

According to a study published in early July in the journal Nature Geoscience , the Iberian Peninsula had not been so arid for a millennium. And the phenomenon will continue to worsen, with the risk of seriously affecting some crops such as vineyards and olive trees.

A prospect that could be catastrophic in Spain, where almost half of the planet’s olive oil is produced, with 3.6 billion euros of exports per year. “Many towns in the province depend on the olive tree. If it no longer produces, there is no more income,” emphasizes Hervás.

According to COAG, seven out of every 10 hectares in Spain are currently cultivated without irrigation. But with the rise in temperatures, 80% of the dry land plots in Andalusia could no longer be “suitable for growing olive groves”, at least for certain varieties.

The quality of the production could also decrease since farmers will have to “make early harvests” of less mature olives, this union insists in a report entitled “The countdown begins.”

To limit losses, some might be tempted to increase the number of irrigated plots. But this solution would weaken the reserves a little more, at a time when southern Spain is already targeting the overexploitation of water in intensive crops

Today, “agriculture takes 70 or 80% of the resources,” says Rosario Jiménez, who says she fears that there will be a lack of water in some towns, which are already facing “specific water cuts.”

From his land, Felipe Elvira is aware of the problem. “The aquifer is going to end up depleted, water is needed for everyone”, recognizes the farmer, “not very optimistic” for the future: “honestly, I don’t know what we are going to do”.

France learns to live without one of its favorite condiments

In neighboring France, a key condiment in its gastronomy is increasingly scarce from the shelves: mustard. Although silent, this disappearance has caught the attention of the French, who are looking for substitutes for this key to their gastronomy.

Each inhabitant of France consumes a kilo of mustard, making it the largest consumer in the world.

The scarcity is due to several factors, but one of the most important is climate change. Said mustard used to be made from the mustard seeds in the capital of the Burgundy region. Now, however, almost 80% of the mustard seeds used in France actually come from Canada, Lui Vandermaesen, director of the large Reine de Dijon factory, told the newspaper.

“The main problem is climate change and the result is this scarcity. We are unable to respond to the orders we receive, and retail prices have risen as much as 25% reflecting the rising cost of seeds,” Vandermaesen told the US daily.

The Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan, like Western Europe, are experiencing an unprecedented heat wave and drought, forcing mustard seed production to be reduced by 50%.

In addition, the high temperatures in France also affected the small harvest that takes place in Burgundy.

“From 12,000 tons in 2016, we have gone to 4,000 tons (of production) in 2021”, explains Fabrice Genin to the Libération newspaper, president of the Association of Mustard Seed Producers of Burgundy (APGMB).

To this is added that another of the main producers of mustard seeds, Ukraine, is in the midst of a war that has made the export of food almost impossible. Just last week, thanks to an agreement with Russia negotiated thanks to Turkey and the United Nations, a ship with Ukrainian seeds left the country, but it will take months or years for the situation to normalize.

With information from AFP and EFE

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