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
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.