Storm Filomena hits Spanish agriculture
This strong and prolonged snow and cold storm is having an important impact for the agricultural sector and the rural environment in several central areas of the Iberian Peninsula, as well as in parts of Andalusia and the Valencian Region.
Storm Filomena has brought record low temperatures, covering much of the country with heavy snow and leaving at least four people dead. It was the worst winter storm to hit Spain in several decades.
Most affected regions
The regions most affected are Madrid, Castilla-La Mancha, Castilla y León, La Rioja, Aragón, Murcia and parts of Valencia and Andalucía.
Among the negative consequences, those suffered by extensive livestock farming due to animal deaths and delays in the fattening process stand out. The damage to the olive groves is also significant, and more specifically to the olives that were not harvested, which will lead to a drop in production. In fruit and vegetables there have been crop losses and longer ripening periods, which have already reduced the supply of this produce on the market.
Damage to infrastructures, warehouses, greenhouses, irrigation systems and machinery due to the heavy frosts and low temperatures is also substantial.
Its losses could be as high as €21 million in a first estimate on 14 January. This figure is likely to increase as the snow and ice disappear and the actual extent of the damage is ascertained. Olive groves are the most affected crop in the region (€12 million of losses) due to the loss of much of the olive buried under the snow; only 30% of the crop had been harvested. To this must be added the fall of trees and the breakage of branches, which will have a negative impact on the coming seasons.
In terms of livestock farming there are many carcasses and other losses and farmers still have difficulty in getting food and water to the animals. There are also losses in vegetables grown outdoors, such as cabbages or artichokes, and in some greenhouses that have collapsed under the weight of snow.
The olive grove is also the most damaged crop, particularly in the province of Toledo, due to the loss of olives and the breakage of trees. Livestock farmers in the region will have to face higher costs due to the loss of pasture. Losses due to the collapse of premises, which have caused damage to machines stored in them, as well as the death of animals in stables, are also noteworthy.
Castilla y León
Livestock farmers are the ones who withstood the worst of this. Farmers’ organizations have pointed out problems in the collection of milk, among others. Among the crops, late rape plots and fruit trees could be damaged. However, organizations point out that Filomena storm is good news for mountain pastures, reservoirs and irrigation.
There is considerable damage to olive groves and vegetable grown in greenhouses in the province of Zaragoza. As in other affected regions, farmers have difficulties in accessing their farms and feeding their animals. Beekeepers estimate significant losses in the hives, which will lead to a reduction in the next honey harvest. There are also concerns about how the cold will affect crops not used to it, such as persimmons, pomegranates and cherries.
Frost losses could be around 8.4 million euros, with artichokes being the most affected crop. Lettuce, lemons and olive groves follow it.
Other damaged regions
In Andalucía, the eastern part of the region has been most affected and the intense cold has led to a drop in vegetable yields. In the Valencian province of Alicante, losses in artichokes are noteworthy and it is estimated that 80% of the olive trees in Cataluña could be damaged.
The snow guarantees irrigation
On the positive side, the increase in water reserves in the form of snow stands out, largely guaranteeing the next irrigation campaigns in most of the country.
In this sense, the National Irrigators Association has assured that the snow left by storm Filomena can guarantee irrigation in the 2021 campaign in a number of hydrographic basins. They will also allow the recharge of some aquifers.
The consequences of Filomena have also been positive for the vineyard. According to the Interbranch Organization of Wine, an important water reserve is being generated, especially relevant in Castilla-La Mancha, the region with the largest area of vineyards, which suffers from drought.
It also confirms that the snowfall has not affected this crop as it is in a vegetative stop. In addition, the snow contributes to "preserve a good sanitary status of the vine" since the low temperatures have a "pest control effect, especially of mites".
A prolongation of the strong frosts of these days could damage the plant, although the real damage will not be seen until May, when the buds of the vines will sprout again.
The National Government has announced economic aid to alleviate the damage caused in several regions, although it has not provided further details.
The President of the Region of Madrid announced the granting of €16 million in aid to the agricultural sector for the rehabilitation of agricultural machinery, the purchase of insurance or the application to the national government for tax deductions.
The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Luis Planas, has estimated between 60 and 80 million euros the damage caused by the storm according to the data recorded so far by Agroseguro.
Notice from SEO/Birdlife
The organization warned that the birds "were experiencing a critical moment" due to the difficulty in obtaining food and shelter after the intense snowfall and cold wave.
In these circumstances, it encouraged citizens to put feeders in their windows or terraces at a time when the most natural food for birds was scarce.
Vegetable profitability is threatened
Storm Filomena is leaving record low temperatures in almost all the country, also in the southeast of the Iberian Peninsula. Production in Almería has fallen considerably, affecting tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, eggplants and peppers. The only thing that has not dropped are the prices, but they are only the result of the produce shortage.
The intense cold keeps the growth of plants and their fruits paralyzed, while threatening to cause damage that could be irreparable at this stage of the season. In this situation, there is no capacity to supply all the existing demand. For Prof. Pérez-Mesa, "in percentage terms, the products that show the greatest price increase are eggplant, zucchini and cucumber. These three products have practically doubled their price in one week. The price of tomatoes has risen by almost 60% and peppers are the vegetable with the smallest increase (17%)".
The available data show that the price increase is due to a very significant drop in production. Pérez-Mesa points out that in the case of tomatoes "the drop is 27%, which will continue for a few more days". Cucumber production even fell by 30% in the first week of 2021. Something similar is expected in the case of zucchini and eggplant.
The significant drop in production threatens the profitability of growers at a crucial time of the season. According to Pérez-Mesa, during week 2 of the year 3% of the total production of Almería is sold, with a value of 75 million euros". "Although price increases are always good news, they are not so good when they exceed the threshold at which the consumer decides to stop buying", the expert from the University of Almería adds.
Entomologist Dr. Jan van der Blom, from the Almería sectorial organization COEXPHAL, warns that we have gone through "excessively high temperatures until mid-December, to frosts after Christmas, while Epiphany has brought us prolonged rains. There have been freeze losses from many plants. The cold also causes the growing points of the plants to weaken, making it difficult to flower for a long time". As if that were not enough, "the current rains can increase fungal and bacterial diseases".
The past 2020 was a tough period for the horticultural sector, facing the pandemic. The 2021 does not present a better picture for the time being.