"Where before we loaded five trucks of watermelon bound for supermarkets, now at most it gives us to fill half a truck." In this graphic way, Plácido Pérez-Chuecos, a farmer from Lorca (Murcia), the territory where the largest outdoor watermelon plantation in Spain is produced, summarizes the historical production deficit that this campaign is going through, the considered star fruit of the summer. The large drop in supply is leading to serious supply problems on the shelves, a problem that consumers have begun to detect and that has led even Mercadona, questioned by users about the lack of the product in their stores, to justice the reason from its official account on social networks: "Due to the adverse weather suffered in the watermelon and melon producing areas, we currently do not have to offer the product normally. Therefore, there may be service failures in some of our stores, we apologize for the inconvenience."
A member of the Alimer cooperative, which integrates 200 watermelon producers and which last year planted more than 60 million units, Plácido recalls how up to four hailstorms in an interval of a few days, the first on May 13, devastated the crops in Lorca. They took away more than 500,000 kilos of watermelon just two weeks after harvesting by affecting the complete cycle of the plants and also the thermal meshes that cover the farms: "I know that people outside the field do not understand it and think that we are crying all day, but we really never saw anything like it, It was a disaster, 50 liters fell in 15 minutes and the hail swept away everything," he laments. Losses in this area alone amounted to EUR 8 million. So the problem is simple: "We do not have watermelons, we have not been able to produce them and the few we have we have had to go buy in those areas where the storm did not affect, even Valencia. In this way, they went "from not having water due to the drought to having the fields flooded, that has been the reality, although it is difficult to explain it, that people understand it and do not believe that we are crying all day," he explains. Along the way, temporary jobs have also been lost this July. Without harvesting there is no labor.
The problem of this campaign is unprecedented in the Spanish market and is motivated by various causes. The first is that, beforehand, fewer watermelon and melon crops had been planted due to the decrease in irrigation allocations due to the drought and the high production costs that have been dragging on since the previous season. The official figures of the Ministry of Agriculture advanced in May that 20% less area had been planted.
In total, last year was closed for both crops with a plantation of 16,211 hectares (-15.8% than in 2021) and 16.1% less than the average of the last five years, even reaching double digits in Andalusia, one of the largest producers in the country (especially Almeria), with a reduction of 25.1% of hectares.
For the first time in history, Spain was below 600,000 tons of sown melon, a product in clear decline in sales. All this decline caused the consumer to pay last summer up to 12 euros for a kilo of these fruits, as if it were a luxury product, taking into account that 20% of the total production of watermelons in Spain is dedicated to export. The rest is intended for domestic consumption mainly between the months of May and September.
"The problem this year is not prices, simply and plainly is that there are no watermelons, at least in this month of July, although we hope, if there is no other climatic shock, that in the first weeks of August the market begins to recover," says Cristóbal Jiménez, a producer in Ciudad Real, where the harvest begins a little later than in the Levante. Another worrying fact: the association 'Unió Llauradora' calculates that the direct losses for the producers of the Valencian Community of melon and watermelon will be around 44 million euros this campaign, with a decrease in production that will be around 52% compared to last year.
The first watermelons of the year -apart from those that arrive from Morocco- are produced in the greenhouses of Almeria and then the plantations begin in the Levante to, at the end of July, begin those of Ciudad Real. It is the main producing triangle. Also in this campaign has arrived production from Latvia and Macedonia, explains Placido: "Our watermelon, because of the climate we have, is very sweet, very good, and although the first of the year that are put on the market are those of Morocco, in the end our product is much better and they buy them from us, "highlights the Murcian farmer, which highlights that the melon has less and less implantation "because it is not profitable and people choose to eat more and more watermelon for its flavor".
As for prices, at the moment, and given the shortage of supply, the products that have them as a treasure, which are very few, are being paid an average of 0.70 euros for each kilo of watermelon, a very high price in any season. On the shelves they are selling for almost two euros. "These prices will not last long if we manage to recover production in August," predicts Plácido in the middle of his plantation, with the only two workers he has been able to hire to extract the few units of watermelon he has saved in this month of July.
CUTTING THE TAJO-SEGURO TRANSFER
As if that were not enough, from Alicante the shortage of watermelons is attributed to the cut of the Tajo-Segura transfer. Specifically, the Asaja organization of this territory criticizes that "producers can not plant if they are not sure that they will be able to irrigate their crops, nor what will be the quality of the water they will have after the increase in ecological flows without technical justification" and "the continuous decisions of the Ministry for the Ecological Transition (Miteco) to send less cubic hectometres than the monthly limit allowed, as happened in June."
In this sense, they warn that "the lack of stable water management by the administrations has led many farmers to abandon the harvest for fear of not having the most necessary resource, water, and the few watermelons that have been planted have been lost due to the alteration of flowering due to the extreme heat of April and the heavy rains of May in the province of Alicante".
According to the criteria of The Trust Project