Do you know where your winter produce comes from? Our Collections Team recently put together a display in our visitor centre explaining just that. As our visitor centre is now closed for the winter (re-opening spring 2016), we thought we would share their display with you on our blog.

Spanish Agribusiness – Out of Season Production in Almeria

The world’s greatest concentration of greenhouses is found in Almeria, southern Spain.  A distinctive landscape, covering 30,000 hectares, has developed since the 1970s on what was once an area of dry scrub land.  Today this highly intensive farming landscape is variously dubbed: “The Costa del Polythene” or “Costa Plastica”.

Over 2.7 million tonnes of produce are grown, peppers, cucumbers, strawberries, aubergines, tomatoes and flowers.  Some of the crops are grown up to three times a year.  Most of them are sold in the supermarkets of northern Europe, often in winter time, they are normally out of season.

Why is this area the “winter salad bowl” of Europe?

Climate: the already high local temperatures are even higher thanks to the high temperatures inside the polythene structures, plants can grow at a faster rate.

Modern irrigation techniques: underground water is pumped up to storage tanks from desalination plants; it is then drip-fed at a rate determined by computers through plastic pipes to the plants.

Good transport links: fleets of refrigerated lorries speed the out-of-season produce along new motorways eg the E15 (see map).

Cheap labour: migrant labour from Morocco and, in recent years from Romania and Bulgaria work for relatively low wages.

Maximum inputs of pesticides and fertilisers coupled with hydroponics.

But there are problems…

Over-exploitation of water supplies: ground water resources are having to be pumped from ever greater depths. Nearer the coast, salt water is now seeping from the sea into these deep rocks.

Immigration issues: including illegal immigrants, poor housing and conditions and ethnic/racial tensions.

Land use conflict: around expanding towns such as El Ejido and resorts such as Roquetas de Mar there is a lot of competition between farmers and builders for land.

Landscape Changes

You can get an idea of the impact of this new farming landscape by:

  1. Comparing the two 1:50,000 Spanish maps, one shows the landscape in the early 1970s (top map); the other, the present day landscape (bottom map).

photo 2

Map of Roquetas de Mar 1970s

photo 3

Map of same area, Roquetas de Mar, up-to-date.

2. Looking at Google Earth images showing the area around Roquetas de Mar. Do such scenes conform to traditional images of Mediterranean farming?

Kenny blog Roquetas de Mar