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Spain: Agriculture
Country Study > Chapter 3 > The Economy > Agriculture

AGRICULTURE


Viewed in terms of land mass, Spain is one of the largest countries of Western Europe, and it ranks second in terms of its elevation, after Switzerland. A large part of the country is semiarid, with temperatures that range from extremely cold in the winter to scorching in the summer. Rainfall, which is often inadequate, tends to be concentrated in two generally brief periods during the year. Summer droughts occur frequently. Of Spain's 50.5 million hectares of land, 20.6 million, or about 40 percent, are suitable for cultivation; however, the soil is generally of poor quality, and only about 10 percent of the land can be considered excellent. In addition, the roughness of the terrain has been an obstacle to agricultural mechanization and to other technological improvements. Furthermore, years of neglect have created a serious land erosion problem, most notably in the dry plains of Castilla-La Mancha.

Compared with other West European countries, the proportion of land devoted to agricultural purposes is low. In the 1980s, about 5 million hectares were devoted to permanent crops: orchards, olive groves, and vineyards. Another 5 million lay fallow each year because of inadequate rainfall. Permanent meadows and pastureland occupied 13.9 million hectares. Forests and scrub woodland accounted for 11.9 million hectares, and the balance was wasteland or was taken up by populated and industrial areas.

The primary forms of property holding in Spain have been large estates (latifundios) and tiny land plots (minifundios). In large measure, this was still true in the 1980s. The agrarian census of 1982 found that 50.9 percent of the country's farmland was held in properties of 200 or more hectares, although farms of this size made up only 1.1 percent of the country's 2.3 million farms. At the other end of the scale, the census showed that 61.8 percent of Spain's farms had fewer than 5 hectares of land. These farms accounted for 5.2 percent of the country's farmland. Furthermore, just under 25-percent of all farms consisted of less than 1 hectare of land, and they accounted for 0.5 percent of all farmland. Minifundios were particularly numerous in the north and the northwest. Latifundios were mainly concentrated in the south, in Castilla-La Mancha, Extremadura, Valencia, and Andalusia (Spanish, Andalucia).

Crop areas were farmed in two highly diverse manners. Areas relying on nonirrigated cultivation (secano), which made up 85 percent of the entire crop area, depended solely on rainfall as a source of water. They included the humid regions of the north and the northwest, as well as vast arid zones that had not been irrigated. The much more productive regions devoted to irrigated cultivation (regadio) accounted for 3 million hectares in 1986, and the government hoped that this area would eventually double, as it already had doubled since 1950. Particularly noteworthy was the development in Almeria -- one of the most arid and desolate provinces of Spain -- of winter crops of various fruits and vegetables for export to Europe.

Though only about 17 percent of Spain's cultivated land was irrigated, it was estimated to be the source of between 40 and 45 percent of the gross value of crop production and of 50 percent of the value of agricultural exports. More than half of the irrigated area was planted in corn, fruit trees, and vegetables. Other agricultural products that benefited from irrigation included grapes, cotton, sugar beets, potatoes, legumes, olive trees, strawberries, tomatoes, and fodder grasses. Depending on the nature of the crop, it was possible to harvest two successive crops in the same year on about 10 percent of the country's irrigated land.

Citrus fruits, vegetables, cereal grains, olive oil, and wine -- Spain's traditional agricultural products -- continued to be important in the 1980s. In 1983 they represented 12 percent, 12 percent, 8 percent, 6 percent, and 4 percent, respectively, of the country's agricultural production. Because of the changed diet of an increasingly affluent population, there was a notable increase in the consumption of livestock, poultry, and dairy products. Meat production for domestic consumption became the single most important agricultural activity, accounting for 30 percent of all farm-related production in 1983. Increased attention to livestock was the reason that Spain became a net importer of grains. Ideal growing conditions, combined with proximity to important north European markets, made citrus fruits Spain's leading export. Fresh vegetables and fruits produced through intensive irrigation farming also became important export commodities, as did sunflower seed oil that was produced to compete with the more expensive olive oils in oversupply throughout the Mediterranean countries of the EC.

Data as of December 1988




Last Updated: December 1988


Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Spain was first published in 1988. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on Factba.se.

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