The challenges for pepper and organic production debated in Almería
The consistency of the Spanish and European pepper market, its challenges and the prospects for expansion over the coming years thanks to continuous research of new varieties of resistant seeds: this was the starting point of a professional day of great interest held in El Ejido, Almería, under the organisational umbrella of the firms Syngenta and Zeraim. At the ‘Eco-Forum’, numerous professionals came from the fields of production, marketing and research to share their knowledge and analyse the landscape of the sector. All of the presentations had a point in common: the promising and expansive current state and the short and medium term projection of the organic products market, which is already a consolidated trend on a global scale.
Spain, which has grown at a rate of 7% in the last year and had already exported over 700,000 tons in the previous three years, is still the largest European pepper seller and second in the world, only to Mexico, which sells 95% of its production to the United States. In 2016, 3.5 million tons of pepper were exported worldwide, confirming the great boom of this product since the turn of the century (in 2000, one million tons sold to foreign markets), as explained by the editor of Eurofresh Distribution, Pierre Escodo, who coordinated the debate.
In Spain, the geographical area of the southeast (Almeria, Murcia and south of Alicante) produces almost all of the volumes for export of this vegetable, as outlined by the CEO of Coexphal Almeria, Juan Colomina. In 2018, 745,901 tons of pepper was exported from Spain – an increase of 181,000 tons in the last six years. The head of Proexport Region of Murcia, Fernando Gómez, stressed that almost all of that increase (161,000 tons) comes from Andalusia (mainly Almeria), which is also seeing strong growth in organic production despite not yet reaching the region of Murcía, a territory that already integrates biological control at 95% of its farms and that in 5 years expects 50% of its production of California pepper to be organic.
One of the most striking conclusions of the day was the confirmation that the Spanish pepper is already available for the European market 365 days a year. Speaking about the organic landscape, Gómez also stressed the need to sustain the growth in the extension of organic crops according to market demands, encouraging farmers who grow conventional products to switch to organic farming. It offers an undoubted added value, “only if they have an adequate business plan”. He also highlighted the need for a union between the producers of southeastern Spain and the ‘battle’ that they are proposing in Brussels so that the hydroponic crop can also be certified as organic.
The Eco-Forum of Syngenta and Zeraim devoted space to the certification of organic production and the different regulations in the countries inside and outside of the European market. Juan Manuel Sánchez, director of certification of the CAAE – Europe’s largest certifier by area – stressed the difficulty of competing with the organic producers of the United States or other countries which have much less demanding regulations. In the case of Spain, there are inequalities even within the different regions, giving the example of Andalusia, where there is a regime of very strict sanctions and regulatory requirements, which complicates the path for producers who decide to go green.
In spite of the exporting importance of the Spanish pepper, there is weak domestic consumption of this vegetable. Some varieties that are widely exported to other markets such as Germany or France are almost unknown by Spanish consumers. Despite the fact that pepper consumption grew in 2018, it is still below the values of previous years.
The British market was another focus of the day, with the contribution of the expert consultant in the UK, José Miguel Flavián, who highlighted the peculiarities of the ‘British’ market, the third largest in Europe (after Germany and France) and the ninth globally. The UK market has seen significant growth in organic production and has demanding consumers.
In this regard, consultant David del Pino spoke of the values related to health, well-being and the environment that currently drive the most important worldwide consumption trend, emphasising the ‘hygienic’ factors that every producer has to comply with scrupulously if they do not want to lose a significant market share or shatter their credibility with consumers. Del Pino calls this a “new religion” and estimates that it will continue to be a determining factor in markets in the near future, “whatever is sustainable or healthy”. And, in his opinion, “what is healthy is what the consumer identifies as healthy, whether it is or not”. At this point, he moved on to discuss the current trend for “the local” product, which in many markets like the US is as popular, or more so, among consumers than organics.
Flavián noted that the UK market has its own characteristics, such as the well-established online channel (number one in Europe), thanks to the great confidence brought by its good functioning, closely related to organics, which are showing very good results in online sales. Or the ‘convenience’ models of small stores, which are comparable in importance to large-scale distribution. He also highlighted the effect of market introspection that Brexit is causing, which has led to a decline in imports and leaves the sector in great uncertainty in relation to tariffs and other consequences that could result from the UK’s exit from the European Union. This is generating some distortion in the commercial relations of other countries with the British Isles.
Research represented another fundamental aspect of the Eco-Forum held in Almeria. Zyngenta-Zeraim is a global reference in this field thanks to the different lines it operates to generate seeds resistant to diseases that, until now, can only be fought externally with phytosanitary products and, in many cases, with poor results. The brand has an extensive catalogue of 16 pepper varieties resistant to Oidium and Nematodes, developed by its extensive breeding team, which includes the speakers José Antonio Chicón and Víctor Domínguez, and that has R & D stations spread all over the world (Spain, United States, Holland, India, Kenya, Thailand). The objective in the short and medium term is to generate seeds that can also resist phytohpthora, WF, thrips, botrytis, aphid or TSWV: P1. Without a doubt, there can be no better proof of the fact that organic farming is progressively eliminating products to fight diseases, thanks to the resistance that practically all seeds, pepper and other crops, will have in the not too distant future.