Nuts, a new opportunity for Basque agriculture

17 February 2022

Nuts, a new opportunity for Basque agriculture

  • Nut consumption is increasing by more than 5% a year in the Basque Country, although only 20% of the product consumed is local
  • To show the potential of implementing this type of crops in the region, NEIKER and ADR Añana have organised the informative conference “The Basque Country: an opportunity for nuts”
  • This conference falls within the Basque Government’s strategy for crop diversification, opening up to new markets and technology transfer to the sector
  • It has been supported and attended by representatives of the Basque Government, ADR Añana, Unión Agroganadera de Álava (UAGA) and the Provincial Council of Alava

More and more nuts are being consumed in the Basque Country every day, around 5% more per year. In fact, according to data from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, around 4 kilos per person were consumed in 2020, of which around one kilo was walnuts. Recent scientific studies have contributed to this and shown the benefits to cardiovascular health when people consume walnuts regularly.

Nevertheless, at the moment the production of these foods is lower than the demand. The region currently produces only 20% of the nuts consumed, which opens a door to the production and sale of these foods in the region. In particular crop diversification and opening up to new markets are part of the Basque government’s strategy for the primary sector to adapt to the market, meet new consumer demands and supply local foods not currently grown in the Basque Country or not grown frequently here, despite their potential.

In this context, the Association for Rural Development ADR Añana and the NEIKER technology centre have organised the informative conference “The Basque Country: an opportunity for nuts” with the aim of demonstrating the potential of nut production, in particular wealnuts, for the primary sector. The event hosted more than thirty farmers interested in the possibilities offered by the implementation of this type of crop and was attended by representatives of the Basque Government, ADR Añana, Unión Agroganadera de Álava (UAGA) and the Provincial Council of Alava.

These crops have a high added value for farmers as, according to Amaia Ortiz, head of the Plant Protection and Production Department at NEIKER, “they make it possible to diversify production and increase the profitability of the agricultural operations because they provide a high economic value using little surface area and they are an alternative to take into account when farmers are planning other crops to complete their agricultural holding”.

The event, held on 16 February, began with a guided tour of the walnut groves of the brothers Gregorio and Javier Torre in Armiñón, where the adaptation of this type of crop to the agroclimatic conditions of the Basque Country was being tested. This plot has an innovative underground drip irrigation system that uses an app to monitor crops with sensors installed under the soil. It measures the quantity of water in the soil and helps optimise production, reduce costs and improve crop management.

Throughout the visit, the participants had the opportunity to find out first hand how the walnut trees are adapting, what varieties are grown and which are giving the best yields, as well as the profitability that can result from crops of these trees. They were also given information about the grants available from the Basque Government and the Provincial Council of Alava for planting trees of this type.


Training in walnut pruning

After the guided tours, a training session on walnut pruning was held, from the different techniques that can be used to the best moment to do it, in the test groves that NEIKER maintains in collaboration with the ADR of Añana in Zambrana (Álava).

In these groves, the technology centre is studying the technical feasibility of the varieties selected, the agroclimatic potential of the area and its growth, in addition to the profitability of planting nut trees with the aim of promoting the startup of production of these trees in Álava. The tests in Zambrana are being conducted mainly with walnuts, but also with almond and hazel trees. Specifically regarding walnuts, “one French and two Californian varieties are being studied, with a finer shell and fleshier nut, characteristics which are highly valued by the consumer”, explained Ortiz.


The Basque Country supports nuts

The Basque Country currently has around 200 hectares dedicated to the plantation of nut crops such as walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts, but they are practically all for the grower’s own consumption and the possibility of marketing them is still low even though there is a high potential for their production and future marketing. Therefore, with the current data we can state that in the Basque Country a further 400 hectares of nut trees would be needed to respond to the current demand for nuts.

Recently, these technical and economic feasibility tests in the Zambrana groves of NEIKER and ADR Añana have been complemented by other private initiatives to transform nut groves and facilitate their launch onto the market, linking the production of distinguished quality to distribution and local sales. In this regard, the Torres brothers are working on a processing centre for nut trees that would enable drying, shelling, calibrating and bagging the nuts harvested and provide the local market with nuts of proximity.