Orange fu­ture not so bright

Farm­ers in Rib­era and Safor are bail­ing out as weather de­stroys har­vest and South African or­anges un­der­cut their prices in su­per­mar­kets

Costa Levante News - - NEWS -

By Saman­tha Kett AN ORANGE cri­sis sweep­ing the re­gion led to 700 farm­ers from Al­gemesí (Rib­era Alta) protest­ing, emer­gency pro­mo­tion cam­paigns by town coun­cils and landown­ers chop­ping down trees and try­ing to sell up.

One farmer in Car­caix­ent has just axed 1.2 acres' worth of orange trees in the Bar­raca d'Aigües Vives area after his third year of not sell­ing a sin­gle fruit.

Landown­ers say it costs them be­tween an av­er­age of €974 and €1,218 per acre to grow or­anges, not count­ing labour in har­vest­ing them – which is pro­hib­i­tively ex­pen­sive due to em­ploy­ers hav­ing to pay nearly 50% on top of work­ers' take-home wages, or a min­i­mum of €280 a month.

And although or­anges are sur­pris­ingly ex­pen­sive in su­per­mar­kets when tak­ing into ac­count the sheer num­ber grow­ing in or­chards across the re­gion, farm­ers re­ceive a frac­tion of this amount, which falls far short of cov­er­ing their ba­sic costs.

Novem­ber's freak storms caused se­vere dam­age to cit- rus crops and, in the Rib­era Alta alone, around 35% of the usual an­nual har­vest was de­stroyed.

Or­anges were once the main­stay of the econ­omy for the south­ern half of the prov­ince of Va­len­cia, from La Safor to the city on flat ter­rain within a few kilo­me­tres of the coast, and it is al­most cer­tain that any or­anges sold in UK su­per­mar­kets la­belled as 'Span­ish' will have been grown in this area.

But on top of the ex­ist­ing strug­gle, an even greater blow to the lo­cal in­dus­try has come in the shape of a Euro­pean Union rul­ing: re­stric­tions on im­ports of South African or­anges into the 28-coun­try block means they are now flood­ing the mar­ket in Spain.

These are not sub­ject to the same strin­gent con­trols, checks and reg­u­la­tions as na­tive or­anges, and cheaper la- bour, liv­ing costs and run­ning costs in South Africa mean ex­porters are able to un­der­cut Va­len­cian pro­duc­ers con­sid­er­ably on price.

Su­per­mar­kets in Spain are al­ready pur­chas­ing South African or­anges in­stead of lo­cal ones be­cause they are cheaper and al­low for higher profit mar­gins.

Farm­ers in the Rib­era and La Safor com­plain there is 'no fu­ture' in their in­dus­try and have heav­ily crit­i­cised the lack of di­rect aid for or­ange­grow­ers 'de­spite what town coun­cils claim'.

When­ever they go to their dis­trict agri­cul­tural of­fice, they are told there is 'noth­ing they can do' and that 'ev­ery­one is in the same boat'.

Coun­cil­lors from all over La Rib­era held a cri­sis meet­ing in Novem­ber, but no firm strat­egy has been de­signed.

Now, those farm­ers who are hang­ing on de­spite the im­pend­ing fi­nan­cial doom they face are des­per­ately urg­ing con­sumers to check la­bels in su­per­mar­kets and buy lo­cal­ly­grown or­anges, even if they cost a lit­tle more.

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