Greenhouses in Almería
Almería is a region situated in Spain, which is nowadays mostly known by its numerous greenhouses. You probably think this area was an agricultural land in the past too , but the truth is, that about fifty years ago it rather provided backdrop for the western movies, because of its dusty,arid and even uninhabitable character.
So how became Almería,the poorest province of Spain, now often called „Mar del Plástico“- „Sea of plastic“ , the biggest export province of the spanish vegetables and fruits? The answer are greenhouses. They currently cover over 30,000 hectares/300 square kilometres/ of land from the sea to the mountains,but most of this land is by the sea, rather than close to the mountains as the temperatures are generally better nearer the sea(warm streams). Greenhouses represent 2,7% of the land in this province and produce 40% of all spanish exports of vegetables. Over 2,700,000 metric tons of produce are being grown here, including for example lettuce, cucumbers, watermelons, beans, squash, cucumbers, peppers, and tomatoes. What makes these numbers interesting is that almost 8% of all vegetable greenhouses in Spain are now using hydroponic methods, and approximately 54% of Spain’s entire hydroponic industry is in Almería. There are different methods of growing crops, including traditional style greenhouses, hydroponic greenhouses using sand,rock-wool as soil and perlite, which is the most popular for its water usage control. Plants are growing in as-called „Perlite Grow Bags“, with small number (mostly six) of holes for plants. The trend towards using perlite hydroponic systems in bags or containers is becoming popular throughout the world. Whether driven by water restrictions (as in Israel and the Mediterranean countries), or by land use limitations (as in Holland and most of Europe), or by climatic considerations, or by the banning of popular field pesticides, the use of perlite in commercial hydroponic growing is increasing as it has offered a very environmentally safe and friendly way to produce more with less water.
Modern hydroponic greenhouses have also water rycycling technology. In certain article written by one visitor of Almería greenhouses, she explained her ideas about efficiency of water recycling method: „Small plants cannot drink water recycled from hydroponic greenhouses so it is best to have at least two hydroponic greenhouses in use at one time. One greenhouse should contain small plants and the second greenhouse containing larger ones. That way the fresh water used on the smaller plants can be recycled and used again to feed the larger plants.“ Remarkable are the growing materials too, I learned about coconut fibre, as the natural growing material of the future. Very important are bees and bumble bees which pollinate those plants that require pollination.
Local people consider the sea of plastic as economic miracle of their province, but on the other hand it has damaged the environment. Plastic waste (mostly the epmty plastic boxes form pesticides) is often left by roadsides and sometimes ends up in the ocean, also, so much groundwater is needed to feed the plants, what could cause drying out the riverbeds and destroy mountainsides. Other fact to discuss is that temperatures inside a greenhouse can reach more than 45 degrees Celsius, which is not healthy for working in here. Many Spanish workers find it too hot to work and conditions so bad, so they are replaced mainly by legal and illegal immigrants from Africa and Eastern Europe. The Network for The Promotion of Sustainable Consumption in European Regions, estimate that workers are paid between 33 and 36 Euros per day. Many ‘farms’ have no toilets and women are often forced into prostitution.
The main export partner is naturally European union, its imports represent 99,8% of Spanish exports. The 0,2% of production is exported to U.S. and Canada. The numbers of EU imports from Spain are explained in the diagram.
Interesting fact- Cooling down
Spanish researchers have found that the greenhouses reflect so much sunlight back into the atmosphere that they are actually cooling the province, meteorological observatories located in the so-called sea of plastic sea have shown a decline of temperature of 0.3 degrees per decade. The strange phenomenon had not gone unnoticed in scientific circles, and now a study has suggested an explanation: the white colour of the plastic reflects sunlight into the atmosphere as if it were a mirror, and it slows the warming of the surface. In this way, the greenhouses at a local level offset the rising temperatures associated with global warming.
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