Spain has long been Western Europe's leading producer, and the world's foremost exporter, of oranges and mandarins. In the early 1960s, the production of these commodities averaged 1.8 million tons a year, and by the 1980s the annual yield averaged about 3 million tons. Grapefruit, lemons, and limes were also grown in quantity, but Spain was second to Italy among West European producers of these fruits. Spain's citrus groves, all under irrigation, were concentrated in Mediterranean coastal provinces, the Levante, primarily in a narrow coastal strip 500 kilometers in length extending from the province of Castellon to the province of Almeria. Some citrus fruit production also was found in Andalusia.
Spain's other significant orchard crops were apples, bananas, pears, peaches, apricots, plums, cherries, figs, and nuts. Except for bananas, which were grown only in the Canary Islands, and figs, which were grown mostly in the Balearic Islands, orchard crops were produced primarily in the Levante and in Catalonia. The Catalan province of Lerida was the leading producer of apples and pears, and it ranked second to Murcia in the production of peaches. Almonds, grown along the southern and the eastern coasts, emerged as another important Spanish cash crop. Almost half of the 1985 crop was exported, approximately 70 to 75 percent of it to EC countries.
The principal vegetable crops were potatoes, tomatoes, onions, cabbages, peppers, and string beans. Spain was the leading producer of onions in Western Europe, and it was second only to Italy in the production of tomatoes. These crops were concentrated in Andalusia and in the intensively cultivated and largely irrigated Mediterranean coastal areas, where small garden plots known as huertas were common. The Canary Islands also produced a significant proportion of Spain's tomatoes. Potatoes were a prominent garden crop in the northwest.
Spain was the world's leading producer and exporter of olives and olive oil, although in some years Italy showed higher production levels because Spanish harvests were notably vulnerable to insects, frost, and storm damage. Andalusia, where about one-half of the olive groves were found, is generally free of these hazards, but olives were grown in virtually every province except the humid north and the northwest. In the 1980s, olive production fluctuated wildly, ranging from 1.2 million to 3.3 million tons per year. Olive oil production was also volatile. Spain's olive production is affected by EC quotas, and past efforts to control overproduction have included the destruction of olive groves.
Though Spain boasted the world's largest area of land devoted to vineyards, much of the wine it produced was of mediocre quality. Vineyards were usually located on poor land, and good wine-making technology was often lacking. In the past, government-guaranteed prices for wine tended to encourage quantity rather than quality and alcoholic content, but programs were instituted in the 1980s to upgrade production, and surpluses of poor quality white wine were more regularly distilled into industrial alcohol. Supported by the restructuring and reconversion program initiated by the government in 1984 and by an EC assistance program, Spain's vineyard acreage continued to decline, and it was expected to fall to 100,000 hectares by 1990. Spain's 1986 wine production was estimated at 36.7 million hectoliters.
Grains covered about 10 percent of Spain's cultivated lands, and about 10 percent of that area was irrigated. Wheat and barley were generally grown in the dry areas because corn tends to crowd such crops out of areas with more abundant rainfall or irrigation. Although most of the wheat was grown in dry upland areas, some of it also was grown on valuable irrigated land. Rice was dependent on plentiful water supplies and, accordingly, was produced in the irrigated areas of the Levante, in Andalusia, and at the mouth of the Rio Ebro. Spanish farmers also grew rye, oats, and sorghum.
During the mid-1980s, the grain crop usually hit record highs of about 20 million tons, compared to 13 million ton in 1983. This meant that Spain, long a grain-importing nation, now produced a surplus of cereals. Barley had come to account for about one-half of the grain harvest and corn for about one-sixth of it, as the government encouraged production of these crops in order to reduce imports of animal feed grains. Although the wheat crop was subject to wide fluctuations because of variable weather conditions, it generally provided about one-fourth of Spain's total grain production, which exceeded the country's needs. Rice and oats constituted the rest of the national total. Some rice and wheat were exported with the help of subsidies, and analysts expected the surplus of wheat and the deficit of corn to continue into the 1990s.
To make up for the shortage of domestic feed grains, Spain became one of the world's largest importers of soybeans, and it developed a modern oilseed-crushing industry of such high productivity that surplus soybean oil became one of Spain's most important agricultural export commodities. The government encouraged domestic production of soybeans to lessen the heavy dependence on soybean imports. To limit the impact of this production on the important, labor-intensive, olive oil industry, which provided work for many field hands in southern Spain, a domestic tax system was established that maintained a two-to-one olive oil-soybean oil price ratio. The revenues derived from this system subsidized large exports of surplus soybean oil. The United States, once the main source of soybean imports, lodged protests against this policy, both bilaterally and internationally, but with little effect as of 1988.
As a further step in reducing Spanish dependence on imported soybeans, the government encouraged sunflower production. Especially favorable growing conditions, coupled with generous government support, caused sunflower seed output to expand spectacularly, and the amount of land used for its cultivation went from virtually nothing in 1960 to approximately 1 million hectares in the 1980s. Sunflower-seed meal was not the most desirable livestock feed, and therefore was not used in this way, but by the 1980s most Spanish households used the cooking oil it provided because it was less expensive than olive oil.
About 8 percent of the cultivated land in Spain was devoted to legumes and to industrial crops. Edible legumes were grown in virtually every province; French beans and kidney beans predominated in the wetter regions; and chick peas (garbanzos) and lentils, in the arid regions. However, Spain was a net importer of legumes. Although consumption of these crops declined as the standard of living improved, domestic production also fell.
Sugar beets were Spain's most important industrial crop. Annual production in the mid-1980s averaged about 7 million tons. Cultivation was widely scattered, but the heaviest production was found in the Guadalquivir Basin, in the province of Leon, and around Valladolid. A small amount of sugarcane was grown in the Guadalquivir Basin. Sugar production, controlled to meet EC quotas, was usually sufficient to meet domestic needs.
Although small quantities of tobacco, cotton, flax, and hemp were also cultivated, they were not adequate to fulfil Spain's needs. But esparto grass, a native Mediterranean fiber used in making paper, rope, and basketry, grew abundantly in the southeastern part of the country.
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