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Mercè Rovira, IRTA:

"The Spanish interest for hazelnuts has grown a lot, despite the difficulties"

"According to Faostat data relating to 2022, the leading producer country of hazelnuts is Turkey with 765 thousand tons grown on 774,047 hectares. Italy follows with 98,670 thousand tons and 84,430 hectares. Spain is tenth with 8,040 tons and 12,660 hectares," reported Mercè Rovira from the Food Research and Technology Institute (IRTA) in Tarragona, an international guest at the Cherasco convention.

For what concerns Spain, Rovida stressed how most of the groves are located in Catalonia and especially in the Tarragona (91%) and Girona (8%) areas, with scattered groves in the north of the country that either grew spontaneously or were planted along borders or river banks. "Spanish groves cover small areas: 35% is less than 1 hectare and 23% is between 1 and 2 hectares. Only 4% exceeds 10-20 hectares. The average surface in Catalonia is 2.9 hectares, while in Girona it is 7.5 hectares."

Mercè Rovira (IRTA).

"In the Tarragona province, hazelnut cultivation spread towards the mid-19th century due to two factors: the uprooting of vineyards after the phylloxera crisis and the importance of the Reus municipality for the commerce of Spanish hazelnuts. We can identify two cultivation areas in Tarragona: one on the hills (Priotat-Prades) characterized by slopes, low mechanization and low production, meaning groves are decreasing, and one on the plain (Camp de Tarragona), a coastal area that is highly mechanized and producing large quantities (2,500-3,000 kg/ha) managed with modern techniques and drip irrigation."

"Over the past few years, the modernization of groves (single trees) enabled a reduction in production costs, facilitating the control of suckers, annual pruning and mechanized harvesting."

As for the cultivars, 60-70% of Spanish groves is of the virus-free variety Negret, boasting medium-small ovoid grades, a shelled yield of 47-49% and high shellability, which is much appreciated by the industry. Another important cultivar is Pauetet. "It is important to stress that we also have Italian varieties Tonda di Goiffoni and San Giovanni as well as new US breeding cultivars (OSU) such as Yamhill, Jefferson and Dorris."

The Spanish hazelnut market reflects what is happening in the rest of the world. "10% of the produce in shells is destined to the fresh produce market, while 90% of hazelnuts are sold shelled to the processing industry. In terms of import-export, 55% of the production is exported mainly to EU markets and 45% remains on the domestic market. Hazelnut prices are a problem is Spain: those of Negret always remain lower than the Turkish and Italian counterparts. Local producers have understood they cannot compete with the Turkish production and quotations, so some of them also process hazelnuts destined to the local markets or online sales." This enables them to achieve a higher added value compared to only handing in the produce to the cooperatives.

Data source: DACC, Generalitat de Catalunya, Borsa de Trebisonda; Ismea-Services for the agricultural food market. Spanish varieties are Negret and Comù, representing everything that is not Negret. Levant and Giresun are Turkish cultivars. The price registered by Ismea concerns the Italian market.

The Spanish hazelnut sector is grouped in six producer organization, all of which are located in Catalonia, covering 10,500 hectares in total (90% of the total). Three of them are cooperatives (Unió Agrària, Conselva, Avellanera) and cover 65% of the production alone. The "Avellana de Reus" PDO was set up in 1997 to promote domestic consumption and the produce.

Critical situation in the Tarragona province
"It did not rain much during the 2023/24 season, which led to the dams being empty and a lack of water to irrigate the groves. 17% of hazelnut groves in the Tarragona province are irrigated with water from the dams. 3,800 hectares were affected by the water shortage, 1,800 hectares of which are hazelnut groves," explained Rovida.

"Over the past few years, despite the difficulties linked with climate change and, especially, due to serious drought and high temperatures, the interest for the sector has increased a lot, meaning existing groves are being modernized in Tarragona with additional ones being planted in Girona. In the future, growers from Catalonia will move groves from Tarragona to Gurona, where the climate is better. Other areas in Spain are also interested: for example Navarra, in the north of the country, is planting new groves as part of a project covering 70 hectares. The first 18 hectares of Tonda di Giffoni hazelnuts were planted in February 2024. The investments in research and good agricultural practices are fundamental for the sector. Considering that consumption is on the up, a special mention should go to the consumption of local produce and the nutritional value of hazelnuts."

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