Spain struggling with declining rice area
Despite an overall decline in rice consumption in Spain, the country remains ripe for domestic producers and exporters to supply market niches, according to a March 3 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS).
The FAS noted in its report that area planted to rice in Spain has been declining since 2011, reflecting pesticides restrictions, import competition and a highly competitive domestic market dominated by supermarket brands. Still, Spain accounts for nearly 30% of rice production in the European Union, trailing only Italy, which accounts for about 50%.
In Spain, the main rice producing regions are Andalucia, Extremadura, Comunidad Valencia, Cataluna, Aragon and Navarra, and the two main types of rice growing areas are traditional growing areas and non-traditional growing areas.
According to the FAS, alternatives to rice are limited in the traditional growing areas, as no viable alternative crops may be grown in the salty conditions. Meanwhile, in the non-traditional growing areas rice is part of a crop rotation process, which includes other crops such as tomatoes for processing or corn.
“Low market prices combined with high input costs and increased limitations in the use of modern inputs for rice crop protection are seen as the main drivers for the area reduction,” the FAS noted. “While rice is a crop with high irrigation needs, there has not been a water shortage over the last few years; irrigation considerations did not influence planting decisions.
“Rice cultivation in Spain is input intensive due to the use of heavy machinery to level soil, and the cost of the certified seed, fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. The reduced number of rice-specific pesticides represents one of the main rice sector challenges. Producers end up relying on the so-called exceptional authorization of pesticides to deal with rice specific pests and plagues.”
According to the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture, the area planted to Indica rice in Spain in 2015-16 accounted for about 45% of total production, with Japonica rice accounting for 55%. In 2016-17, though, Indica’s share dropped to 40%, with Japonica’s share increasing to 60%.
“On top of the downward trend in rice plantings, Spanish producers are switching from Indica varieties to Japonica varieties, as Indica growers face stiff competition from imports,” the FAS said. “Consequently, the surplus of long-grain, Indica rice in the market caused by increasing imports is being transferred to the roundgrain, Japonica rice market in the shape of increased Japonica rice plantings, which results in higher competition and pressures domestic prices down.”