Four questions on Specialty Crops & Farm Equipment to...
Ignacio Ruiz, Secretary General of ANSEMAT (Spanish Association of Farm Equipment Manufacturers) & Chairman of CEMA Economic Experts Group
Eurostat has recently published the 2017 figures regarding the coverage of fruits' plantation at European level. Very often arable crops take center stage when addressing the challenges of farming in Europe. However, farmers in Europe produce a wide range of products including cereals but also fruits, nuts, vegetables, dairy or meat which have to be equally considered when devising new policy strategies or funding projects.
On this occasion CEMA addresses 4 questions to Ignacio Ruiz on the importance of Specialty Crops plantations in EU Agriculture and their needs regarding adequate Farm Equipment
CEMA - Spain followed by Italy and Poland hold the main fruits' production areas in Europe. In terms of agricultural equipment, do farmers use particular machines to maintain specialty crops plantations?
IR - Of course they do. Farm machinery and specialty crops are somehow interlinked and are going through an evolutionary process season after season. Among specialty crops, the woody crops are mainly characterized by their perennial plantations, so as long as the trees are reaching their maturity to maximize the fruit production, the less changes can be introduced to the plantation. This means that machines shall adapt to the crop, and such adaptation will be more challenging with the plantation age. For instance in Spain over 50% of olive groves are 50 years old or older, more than 70% of vineyards are 10 years old or older, and most fruit trees (pome, stone and citric) range from 5 to 25 years old, the need of special machines to cover all agronomic practices is well shown. Besides, farmers do even have problems with the tractors ROPS (rollover protective structures) since sometimes there is no sufficient room below the treetop to travel with the deployed ROPS, compromising the operator safety. Unfortunately, a mismatch between the machine and plantation can lead to huge profitability losses.
CEMA - Do farmers raise any specific demand that could be or has been translated in developing new agricultural machines to improve their practices?
IR - The development of new machines and solutions are always relying on the specific demand from farmers. In particular to specialty crops, such development process is driven by the quality of the plantation output, or in other words, its price. Fruits have a broad range of prices based on their quality, and those prices are not linked to international markets. Hence, in a number of cases, producers are able to set the prices of their products. Farmers are the first interested in achieving the best quality out of their plantations, and therefore decide whether implementing mechanization practices or not. Such decisions are even more sensitive when wine or olive oil are on the table.
CEMA - How do farmers feel about the 'Digital Revolution'?
IR - When the quality of the product drives its market price, investments in technologies that lead to a higher quality and production reducing costs are more than welcome. Today, there is a huge gap between the supply and demand of smart farming technologies throughout Europe mainly due to two reasons: limited farmers’ income to invest in new technologies, and lack of training to get out the most of their profitability. Despite of their profitability related benefits, the value of digital technologies do not counterbalance the prices’ increase experienced by new agricultural machinery in the last years, in part, resulting from latest EU legislation application. Unfortunately, farmers’ incomes are not growing at the same pace. However, the situation for specialty crops has improved since 2004. The share in the aggregated farm income has increased in production and prices. As a result, growers’ investment capacity improved, allowing the purchase of new modern machines.
CEMA - What about the arrival of robotics? Could that be an option to pick up fruits such as peppers or strawberries which are very labor intensive activities?
IR - Robotics will potentially be the solution in labor intensive practices when wages are high enough in open field plantations, or when specialty crops are cultivated in certain highly productive greenhouses. Once again, products’ price will lead the potential investments. Nowadays, the quality and price of specialty crops is highly correlated with the geographical location rather than with plantation techniques.