Monday, February 22, 2016

Day 8 - Feb. 22nd

Antequera to Motril to Adra to Almunecar

We traveled through several climate  and ecological zones today, with specialized agricultural production. We started the day at the edge of the mountains of Antequera in heavy olive production and traveled south through the mountains and dropped into fruit production.  Further to the east we entered the desert and vegetable production.  For a good analogy of the trip, we learned a family of 4 could make a living off 500 hectares of cereal grain, 50 hectares of olive oil trees, 5 hectares of fruit trees, or 2 hectares of green houses.

Spain is number one in production of olives and olive oil; therefore, fittingly, we toured one of several oil cooperatives in Antequera.  Oleoalgaidas Cooperatives produced 34 million kilos of olives in the 2014/2015 crop year, and 70% of the olives are from coop members. It takes 7 years until the first olive tree can be harvested.  The plant is state-of-the-art, mostly automated, and has a similar feel and organization to an ethanol plant at home.  Producers bring in their olives by the load throughout the day, land quick samples and weight, and off they go.  The SDARL group was interested in their farming practices and the impact on the environment with the aggressive tillage and slope.

San Ramon is a 35-acre fruit producer along the cliffs of the Mediterranean; it is heavily terraced and has an intelligent irrigation system.  The orchard produces mangos, avocado, pomelos, among many other specialty fruits.  It is currently managed as an organic system; however, the owner is considering returning to a traditional system because of the poorer production and added cost.  She educated the group on agricultural techniques of pomelo and avocado plants.  Some avocado varieties are able to stay stored on a tree without ripening for up to a year.  This has allowed many producers to market their crops more advantageously.  The land along Mediterranean is not naturally a high food production area; irrigation is essential and has been irrigated for 1200 years. An average producer only has a few acres of production.

Our hosts were also very gracious to serve a traditional paella seafood dish, several of their fruits, and sangria.

Fifty years ago the arid desert cliffs and valleys of the Mediterranean were goat and sheep pastures, but with the invention of plastic sheeting, the area has exploded into vegetable production.  The lack of frost, the many hours of sun, combined with the proximity to the European market have transformed the area into a plastic city of high tunnel green houses.  On any land that can support production, plastic sheeting covers the land, and terraces were constructed with topsoil hauled in from other areas. 

We toured Agroiris a large associate-owned distribution center for peppers, cucumbers, melons and assorted vegetables.  Agroiris handles 55 million kilos of California red peppers and 20 million kilos of melons.  A pepper can be picked, distributed, and delivered to Germany, their core market, in less than 2 or 3 days. 
Our hotel tonight overlooks the Mediterranean Sea.