María José Rubio-Cabetas, from the Fruit and Vegetable Growing Unit of the CITA [Aragón Agrifood Research and Technology Centre], is the Head Researcher of ECOALTE project, whose main aim objective from an environmental approach is to explore and study the land’s microflora and microbiota.
What does ECOALTE, the CITA’s project you lead, consist in and what are its objectives?
ECOALTE wants to promote almond trees organic farming in Teruel, to help the rural development in those areas, look for alternative crops and to make this product have a real demand. We mustn’t forget, of course, that diversification is always beneficial.
Why has Teruel been selected for this research? What are the characteristics of this province?
Teruel was chosen because it has a lot of areas of almond trees and olive trees, therw were several initiatives and there are a lot of young farmers trained in agroecology and almond transformation. Teruel is suitable because a very diverse province, there is the Matarraña area and Low Aragón, where almond is a typical crop, but there are also the San Martín del Río meadows or dry lands which have been adapted to almond crops, for example. Teruel is very diverse in orographical terms and the demand of organic almond is increasing, so the bet goes on. Its natural conditions, non humid land, where illnesses can be controlled, are favourable to this crop and Aragón meets them. In addition, CITA has developed a vegetable material adapted to Aragón, where resistance to most common illnesses is incorporated.
What has been in general terms almond tree growing like and where does it go?
Almond tree growing in Spain has meant a revolution, caused, in the.first place, by the increase in demand. Lots of studies support almond as the most balanced food, because all its properties, proteines or fatty acids are balanced in each and every grain. Besides, more and more countries are concerned about feeding and in their diets almond can’t be missing, so a lot is exported.
Almond market is very determined by the Americans, who are the biggest producers and some years ago they did a hard work on marketing to sell it. We produce very little, but we have taken advantage of this effort. This means that Spain, without the American marketing and thanks to tradition and thanks to the elaboration of vegetable material with almond trees, has managed to revolutionise and is well placed in this boom. Spanish almond trees’ genetics is the best one.
Why is almond organic farming important?
It is very important, in the first place, because there is a demand of organic farming and we export. Germany and France, for example, are buying a lot thanks to the added value of its products. In Spain and Aragón, we are speaking about a product from arid lands, which means that traditional farming was already organic. It is an easy to manage product in organic farming conditions. It would be more difficult to, for example, to grow organic almond trees in Portugal due to the influence of the Atlantic climate, where illness control is not so easy.
On August 20th the first price was published, as harvesting is starting now, and although the almond prices have decreased sharply, the data is the following:
- Melona almond (variety from Aragón): 3.67 euros / kilo
- Comuna almond: 3 euros / kilo
- Organic almond 7.40 euros / kilo.
Could it be said that Aragón is ground-breaking in research and valuation of almond tree organic farming by means of this project?
I don’t know whether this project is ground-breaking, but it is sure that in Aragón it will be implemented because the region has good conditions. We can learn from what our grandparents did and work with the lifelong knowledge, the traditional one, which is organic and we can go a long way.
At least the project will be pioneer in studying all the soil’s microbiology and microbiota. This will be the most important in terms of environment, to explore the microflora and microbiota in each land, something that requires continuous training. The approach may be ground-breaking, because we are in contact with the most cutting-edge industrially developing products and with young farmers who take all this really seriously.