Irrigation: Thousands of jobs pending transfer cuts in Elche: “Without water, you can’t encourage anyone to continue in the field” |  Spain

Irrigation: Thousands of jobs pending transfer cuts in Elche: “Without water, you can’t encourage anyone to continue in the field” | Spain

The Campo de Elche (Alicante) will see its production of vegetables reduced by 10% this year, more than two million kilos less than in 2022. This is the calculation made —by virtue of the hectares cultivated— by the agricultural union Asaja, which He attributes this decrease to the “uncertainty about the availability of water” generated by the Government’s plan to reduce the volume of water transferred from the Tagus to the Segura in the coming years. Pedro Valero, 68, is holding out for the moment on his cauliflower and romanesco plantation, although he confesses that it won’t be long before he certifies his total retirement. “If there is a lack of water, you consider that it is time to let it be”, he maintains. “And if there are no prospects for improvement in the future, you won’t encourage anyone to stay in the field.”

Valero explains that in the Algorós district, where he has his land, they do not depend exclusively on transfer. “It wouldn’t be enough,” he points out. “We also purify 100% of the wastewater from Elche [la tercera ciudad de la Comunidad Valenciana, con más de 235.000 habitantes] and we extract it from the Hondo wetland and from the remains of the Segura river”. Beyond that, irrigators have a “centralized drip” system thanks to an infrastructure that transfers water from the Crevillent reservoir, reservoir of the Tajo-Segura transfer and regulator of the left bank of the Riegos de Levante community. “It’s like turning on the faucet: without losses due to evaporation or seepage” as is the case with traditional ditches, he points out. When the water from the transfer is reduced, those who use it “will resort to the treatment plant, so there will be less availability of irrigation hours at the same cost,” he predicts.

The new legislation, which will cut more than 100 cubic hectometres per year, according to calculations by Asaja (the main union in the area), will target “small farmers,” Valero considers. Added to this, he says, are “the new fertilizer plan, the regulations for insecticides, the digitalization of field books, the increase in the minimum interprofessional wage, the increase in electricity, fuel or fertilizer costs, the prohibition of agricultural burning and paperwork”. “Thus, the only thing they are going to achieve is that small companies get lost or dedicate themselves exclusively to the local market,” continues the farmer, “or that they fall into the hands of big companies in the sector that can put up with it.”

Senegalese for the harvest

In winter, Valero has two Senegalese employees for the harvest. In summer he only maintains one, for the work of preparing the land and to collect the fruits of “half a hectare of fig trees and another half of pomegranates”. He predicts that if water costs rise due to the use of water from desalination plants, he will not be able to maintain even this minimum workforce. Asaja calculates that the forced replacement of transferred water by desalinated water will generate losses of between 45 and 136 million euros in the province of Alicante (depending on whether the Government grants subsidies or not). Vicente Andreu, provincial president of the union, accuses Minister Teresa Ribera of having a “despotic attitude” and fears a loss of “6,300 direct jobs in Alicante and 9,000 in Murcia.” The main threat, Asaja points out, looms over melon, watermelon, pomegranate or fig crops. “At this time we are getting by”, continues the farmer from Elche, who believes that “the problem will come in spring, with the irrigation of the pomegranates”, the star crop of the area along with the artichoke. A product that, like citrus, “needs quality water, not a treatment plant”.

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Experts such as the ecologist from the University of Alicante Fernando T. Maestre have proposed, in view of this situation, that changes be introduced in the crops in the Levant; Irrigation, according to Maestre, accelerates desertification in the southeast of the peninsula. Valero responds that this solution “is complicated.” “First, you would have to choose a variety that would adapt to the land and climate, and then find the marketing channels.” Valero sells his vegetables through a cooperative. “If I wanted to plant beets, for example, I would have to know beforehand who I can sell it to.” He admits that there are changes that occur naturally, “as happens with the carob tree, which is growing”, but finding a way out for a new crop “is a slow process”.

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