February 25, 2021

Filomena’s rains, a blessing for the Canarian countryside


It wasn’t four drops. The passage of the storm Filomena through the Canary Islands has left abundant rains in practically the entire Archipelago in recent days, which have increased the level of the reservoirs and they have even dyed drier islands like Lanzarote green. Gran Canaria has guaranteed two years of irrigation thanks to the water that has entered its dams; Tenerife has left images of these full tanks and on other traditionally agricultural islands such as La Palma or La Gomera, 50% of their capacity has been exceeded. “It has been a blessing, it has wet all the islands and has done so in a serene, calm way, without causing great damage,” explains Jesús Corvo, a farmer with vine and avocado crops in La Orotava.

This scenario gives a truce to a sector considered essential during the pandemic that began in 2020 with protests throughout the territory of the Spanish State to demand fair prices to which, in the Archipelago, a haze with strong winds was added that caused havoc on agriculture of the Islands, already depleted by the drought of recent years. And the year ended burdened by the limitation of sales channels due to the fall in tourism and with farmers receiving less than half of the final price of their fresh products that, in some cases, were forced to throw away milk or fruit.

Corvo, also regional vice president and secretary general in Tenerife of the Free Agrarian Platform of the Canary Islands (Palca), explains that in La Orotava they have water accumulated on the surface for six months, which allows that in that period it is not necessary to use the reserves excessively of the reservoirs. “Generally speaking, this rain is wonderful,” he adds. For the cultivation of the vineyard, the rains will help the next harvest because “it has water that has seeped about 4 or 5 meters and that surface is already wet.” This occurs in a particularly affected subsector, whose acreage has fallen by 50% in recent years.

The shortage of tourists has caused a considerable decline in sales and the winemakers who have been able to resist have done so by selling to large stores, since the Horeca channel (Hotels, Restaurants and Cafes) has been practically closed; those who place their production here “have had it very difficult to maintain themselves,” says Corvo. The drought in the Islands caused the harvest to start earlier compared to other years and if the season had been dry, Corvo affirms that a lot of vineyards would have been lost. For this reason, the Posei aid was essential: “This year we are going to charge 2,200 per hectare.”

The harsh and windy storm that the Archipelago suffered at the beginning of 2020 especially affected crops such as bananas and avocados. “It devastated, especially in the north of Tenerife”, Corvo recalls. But they were able to access the compensations established by agroseinsurance. In addition, the Insular Council offered 1,250 euros per hectare to the affected avocado farmers. This fruit, which was the agricultural product that was paid the most in the Canary Islands in December 2020, requires a lot of water for its cultivation in a land where it has spread in recent years and is even the target of many robberies. For this reason, the rain “is good” to lower the price of avocado – which has reached 8 euros on the shelves – by lowering production costs.

Welcome water for the potato

The storm Filomena has not caused great damage to potato cultivation, at least in La Orotava. Enrique Llanada, from the Cooperativa Valle de La Orotava, explains that very few members have reported incidents related to damage caused by runoff. And this is because the majority did not decide to plant before the passing of the storm, which has coincided with the sowing period (between January and February).

“If it had been planted before, the runoff would have carried off the entire plant, the seed and it would have to be replanted again. This represents a considerable expense because replanting would have to be done by hand and increases the investment twice or three times compared to the the first time it is planted “, explains Llanada. “The rains have come like May water. They are always welcome. What is not welcome is the damage. The storm Filomena has done some damage, but in the potato there have been no major incidents and the partners have not called to ask for help from the Sure. There is no great affectation. On the contrary, the storm has been very welcome, “he adds.

Despite the uncertainty generated by the closure of the Horeca channel, the potato producers of the Cooperativa Valle de La Orotava were able to dispose of all their production in 2020 thanks to the fact that, “as tourism did not enter, potatoes from outside did not enter either” during the peak collection period, which begins in May and lasts until July. At the end of June and July “it is true that the potatoes from Israel entered”, imported by a company run by the president of the Canary Islands Farmers and Ranchers Association (Asaga), Angela Delgado. But “when foreign potatoes began to be marketed, we already had nothing to sell.”

By 2021, Llanada hopes that there will be no problem in marketing as long as “the entry of potatoes from outside is controlled”, because competing with foreign products in times when there are more tubers from the Islands on the market implies having Potatoes have been stored for months, which means a greater investment in light to keep them in cameras. “You pay more for energy costs than for what the potato is worth,” he remarks.

A pest for tomato

It never rains to everyone’s liking, the saying goes. And the water has not generated a benefit for all the farmers of the Canary Islands. Tomato growers in the south and southwest of Gran Canaria have received the passage of the storm Filomena in a positive way, since “it has not caused damage and has come more serene and abundant,” explains Gustavo Rodríguez, spokesman for the Provincial Federation of Associations of Exporters of Horticultural Products of Las Palmas (Fedex). It allows these farmers to do without using desalinated water, which involves a higher cost, and to resort to reservoirs. However, in La Aldea de San Nicolás, where the overflow of its prey has been received with the ringing of bells, the humidity has brought with it the mildew, “a fungus known as the black spot that affects the stems and kills the plant”, emphasizes Rodríguez. And in that municipality it already affects a third of tomato crops.

“Agroseguro does not cover the damage caused by this plague and we have approached the Ministry to establish some kind of help that helps to alleviate the effects that also occur in the middle of the campaign,” explains Rodríguez. “This has been the bitter side because the rains lasted almost five days and we were unable to free the farms from excess moisture,” he adds. In addition, this happens in a crop rooted in the history of the Archipelago that looks uncertainly at 2021, since without an increase in aid they will have serious difficulties for the next season.

The start of the 2019-2020 harvest campaign began almost at the same time that Spain decreed the first state of alarm in March. “There was demand because the recipient countries for Canary Island tomatoes did not have such an impact and we were able to endure,” Rodríguez recalls. But as of October, the second wave hit hard in the main fruit markets: “Infections soared in Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom; also, although more tepidly, in the Nordic countries.” And in the last quarter of the year they suffered the rigors of the measures: “The large supermarkets remained, but it was not enough,” especially considering that “the same amount of tomatoes continues to enter a market that does not consume all of what you get “. Unless the exporter has a firm contract with the buyer, with a fixed price, accessing the free market is very complicated.

Therefore, Rodríguez predicts a “very tough” 2021 campaign and they have already transferred their concern to the Government of the Canary Islands so that they can mitigate losses with “contingency aid”, in a similar way to the funds allocated to the flower and plant subsector, that suffered a great impact. “This does not look like recovering” and with the help of Posei it is not enough, according to Rodríguez. In the recent modification of the program, the tomato subsector goes from receiving 15,000 to 24,000 euros per hectare, but this will not be able to begin to receive it until 2022. “This was approved on January 31, 2020 and entered into force on January 1, 2021, but they are for expired years, explains Rodríguez. That is, this year they will receive 15,000 euros because it is relative to the activity of 2020. “And some producers do not know if they will be able to reach 2021,” he says.

Also, for those farmers who have their crops in greenhouses, the rain has caused more harm than good. Luis Jiménez, who has a company dedicated to peppers, says that the storm has caused some breakage of plastic greenhouses and the cold has caused “lack of ripening.” “We are not extensive. If it were an olive or almond plantation, the rain is good”, but in his case the rain is positive “if it fills the dams and little else.” Jiménez explains that the pandemic did not hit him hard because he sells his products to large supermarkets, but he has been able to observe that “planting is being stopped” to survive in the face of low sales prices: “He who has eight hectares plants four.” In his opinion, this situation will continue until tourism is restored.

Small farmers

On La Palma, the storm Filomena left Siberian landscapes on its peaks. The rains drenched the beautiful island from end to end, leaving 108 liters per square meter in areas such as Garafía, and the 11 dams of the Cabildo Palmero increased to 76% with 2,623,094 cubic meters of water. “I am 52 years old and I only remember seeing something similar when I was 8 or 9 years old,” recalls Concepción González, a farmer with 27 years of experience in the sector and dedicated to growing fruit and vegetables on two hectares located on La Palma, which she sells in markets.

Despite the fact that part of his potatoes and strawberries have been spoiled by the humidity, González remarks that the rains for La Palma plantations “have been very good.” Especially for the trees in the midlands and on the peaks, such as apple, pear or chestnut trees, “which were drying up.” In addition, it highlights that the “aquifers are full and now no water is needed to irrigate.”

González remembers that in the first months of the state of alarm he had no way of selling his products, when the markets closed. He could only resort to door-to-door sales. With the reopening, he has a place to sell his strawberries or vegetables, although “it shows that there are fewer people, because there are no tourists. Now, he perceives that “local commerce is working”, something that he attributes to one of the lessons of 2020 in the Archipelago: to generate more awareness of the importance of consuming local products.

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