The day that Spain was on the verge of slaughtering cattle for lack of feed

The day that Spain was on the verge of slaughtering cattle for lack of feed

Spain is a livestock power but has feet of clay. To the point that in recent weeks everything was ready to start slaughtering farm animals because there was nothing to feed them. The war suddenly cut off supplies from Ukraine, the main supplier of the raw materials used to make animal feed, and there was no alternative in the rest of the world market.

There were moments of enormous tension, but in the end, the efforts of the sector, the speed with which it acted,
the struggle with the Ministry of Agriculture,
common sense, a bit of luck and some emergency changes in the regulations helped to solve, for the time being, one of the

worst crises that the Spanish livestock had experienced. "We got to be in a moment of authentic panic," Jorge de Saja, general director of the Spanish Confederation of Manufacturers of Compound Food for Animals (Cesfac), tells ABC.

In these days it is expected that the first ships from the United States loaded with corn to feed the cattle will arrive on the Spanish coast and that other ships will leave Argentina. Getting the permits and getting the feed to arrive on time has been quite an odyssey.

Fallow area in Spain

As a percentage of the agricultural area

Cultivated area

and other types of surfaces except

the one dedicated to the fallow


50,597,566 ha

total area

Fallow area by autonomous communities

As a percentage of the total

Source: Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food / ABC

fallow area

in Spain

As a percentage of the agricultural area

Cultivated area

and other types of

safe surfaces

the one dedicated to the fallow


50,597,566 ha total area

fallow area

by autonomous communities

As a percentage of the total


Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries

and Food


«Animal feeding in Spain is very efficient but it has feet of clay because
we import many raw materials
-Explain-. We are very deficient in cereals and absolutely deficient in vegetable protein, and there are no alternatives to Ukraine on the world market."

This confederation began to warn of the risk in early February, before Russia invaded Ukraine, when it presented three possible scenarios to the Ministry of Agriculture: one of them was war. «We made an inventory of all the raw material for animal feed available in Spain. At the end of February, shooting from the top, we had two months to go and it was urgent to find a solution. We started to get nervous because the countdown was starting and every week was one week less.

strong disagreement

“We look for animal feed, and we find it in the Americas, in the north and in the south. But for technical-regulatory reasons, these imports could not come to Spain », continues his story. To be able to bring them "it was necessary that emergency regulations be applied, and there we had a strong disagreement with the Ministry."

The truth is that Agriculture understood the problem and even took it to the Council of Ministers of the EU on March 2, but the times of politics were too slow for the urgency that the situation required. "They agreed to study it and see it again at the next Council of Ministers, which was on March 21," adds De Saja. The Spanish Administration preferred to move with the deadlines of the EU and the Government wanted to group in the same package -the one that approved last Tuesday- all the measures of response to the crisis generated by the war. "The times accommodated the Government's story," he explains.

“We put all the pressure we could because we had to enable a solution now, and not wait for March 21.
Spanish livestock could not wait.
The media was very helpful and finally on Friday (March 11) the European Commission told the Member States that they could apply this legislation. In reality, it was not necessary to wait for that, because the community regulations themselves allowed the States to take these measures, but Spain insisted that it wanted a European backing », he explains.

The solution, in extremis

The situation was unblocked in extremis: the same day that animals were going to be slaughtered. "That Friday, ships from America began to leave with animal feed and the Spanish Minister of Agriculture spoke with the Argentine." On Monday, the resolution was published that allowed the importation of corn from Argentina. And that day was the deadline that "we had given ourselves to start slaughtering animals, because the slaughter capacity in Spain is limited and even the slaughter has to be planned."

The problem initially presented by the
corn from the United States
was that "among all the seeds there was one that had already been authorized in the United States, but it is still pending authorization in Europe, whose process is slower," says De Saja, who adds that just bringing a ship from America costs three million euros and no one can risk having to burn their cargo because it is not admitted. However, Agriculture found that this corn "did not present any problem."

And the drawback of corn from Argentina was the possible presence of pesticides authorized there and whose authorization expired a couple of years ago in the EU and was not renewed, according to the person in charge of Cesfac. What Spain did was to increase the maximum limits of accepted residues.

The idea is that the grain that arrives on the ships allows
feed the Spanish cattle until September, when it is harvested
what is grown in Spain. "We believe that we have saved the availability of animal feed, although we will see the production costs," warns De Saja. The protest of the transporters has also influenced the feed stocks because "during the strike, in many areas the animals have been underfed and, if there had been trucks available to take them to the slaughterhouse, they would have been slaughtered," he laments.

In order to increase cereal production, Europe has authorized planting on fallow land, which has increased the arable land in Spain by 600,000 hectares. To these are added another 2.16 million hectares dedicated to crop diversification. This measure and the rise in prices are expected to encourage farmers to plant sunflowers, from which they obtain oil for human consumption and flour for animal feed. Before, in Spain, more than a million hectares of sunflower were planted, but now only about 600,000 because it cannot compete with the imported one. However, what is foreseeable is that the rise in the price of sunflower will guarantee the profitability of its cultivation in the coming campaigns, in which Ukraine will not produce, since its priority is to guarantee the food of its population, not to export.

In the opinion of José Roales, of the Coordinator of Farmers and Ranchers Organizations (COAG), allowing planting in fallow land has been "a wise decision, although it should have been taken a little earlier because in some areas, such as Andalusia, sunflowers are sow earlier.

According to Antonio Catón, from Cooperativas Agroalimentarias, «everything that can be planted is going to be planted because there is demand; because, with the rains that fell in March,
the field is asking to be sown
and because the market is like never before. The situation is unbeatable for sowing.

For Javier Alejandre, from the Union of Small Farmers and Ranchers (UPA), "we may not be able to sow all the potential land, but there is a commitment from the sector to increase the production of raw materials because complicated times are ahead and market tension ».

According to Alejandre, what has happened with the war can be repeated with climate change. "If two producing areas of the world were affected by a significant reduction in production as a result of a drought, there could be a very important tension in world prices", he warns and recalls that "the reduction in stocks in 2008 caused a brutal rise in the price of cereals and triggered the Arab spring, whose trigger was the increase in the price of bread». For all these reasons, he believes that it is urgent to regulate the use of technologies, such as gene editing, which would allow the development of species resistant to drought, pests or salinity.

For Ignacio López, from Asaja, all this has highlighted the need to "strengthen productive capacity to reduce dependence and volatility in the markets."

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