The land situation in Spain is marked by important loss of farmland, including land abandonment and land erosion. Besides, Spain is one of the European country with the most unequal land distribution, comparable to that of many Latin American countries. This unequal situation has been further fuelled by land concentration, spurred by the rapid modernisation process of Spanish agriculture. Modernisation, combined with land speculation from urban and agricultural users, have led to major price increases, particularly on irrigated land.Today, it is really hard for new entrants, particularly newcomers, to access land in Spain and in Catalonia.
Caution note: there is a significant lack of data, in quantity and quality referring to land both in Spain and in Catalonia. The most updated data, which commonly refers to 2007-2009, does not allow to take a very accurate picture of the current situation.
Half the Spanish territory is farmland. Between 1960 and 2000, Spain lost about 3 million hectares of agricultural area, i.e. about 10% of it. Besides urban development and soil sealing, which is affecting most of Europe, land abandonment and soil erosion are of particular concern in Spain.
The main process that caused irreparable loss of fertile soil has been urban development. Over the past decades, the development of towns, infrastructures and tourism facilities have consumed Spanish farmland, particularly the most fertile land. It has meant the occupation of river valleys and other traditional irrigated soils of high agricultural value with buildings, roads and other infrastructure. In 1992 already, Spain was identified as the European country most affected by farmland loss, and with the lowest proportion of high-value agricultural soils, because of development. We have been spectators of this phenomenon for two decades without a special concern.
Farmland abandonment is also a major concern in Spain: in the 1990s, 8% of the agricultural area was lost to abandonment, and about 20% of the UAA is at risk of abandonment, particularly in mountain areas. The extent of farmland loss is partly concealed by the farm that farming partly re-localised on new agricultural area. Abandonment is correlated with erosion and other environmental degradation (e.g. loss of soil fertility).
Another increasing concern in Spain is the erosion resulting from agricultural systems. The proliferation of greenhouses in the coastal hills and steep slope areas of Murcia and Almeria are causing important problems. The construction of these greenhouses, which sometimes occupy very large areas in the foothills of the coastal mountains, requires large earthworks, sometimes similar to those required by quarries.
Spain is one of the most unequal European countries in terms of land distribution. Its agrarian structure is very similar to that of Latin America. Andalusia has been and still is the most unequal region of Spain, with the predominance of very large latifundia. This situation results from the historic coexistence of two farming models: small to very small farms on the one hand, and very large estates on the other hand. Over the centuries, the latifundist structure has remained largely untouched. In parallel, modernisation and industrialisation of agriculture have recently fuelled farm extension and land concentration throughout the country.
The average size farm in Spain is 22 hectares (2010), which conceals huge disparities: farms over 100 ha represent only 5% of all farms but 55% of all farmland. The average size has increased by 20% since 2000.
In contract with the north of Europe, in Spain, most farmland is used in ownership, albeit ownership is in decline: 67% in 2007, compared to 73% in 1999. In 2007, 27% of farmland was rent to tenant farmers.
These data seem to confirm the trend, observed on the ground, that retired owners do not sell their land, but they do rent it to other farms. However they usually lease to neighbouring farmers, instead of new entrants, thereby increasing farm extension, land concentration and the decline in farm number.
The official average land price in Spain is 9.700 €/ha. However there are huge differences between autonomous regions: e.g. in Aragon the average price for ha is 3.900€/ha, 12.300 €/ha in Catalonia, and up to 59.200€/ha in the Canary Islands (2012).
Land prices have increased as a result of the pressure for urban, tourism and infrastructure use, and the related speculation. Spain has also experienced a race for land, spurred by big supermarkets, fracking projects and big national and international capitals. Big food companies linked to big supermarket chains, in particular, view land as the main key to control productions and, thereby, final prices to consumers. These phenomenon contribute to endangering food sovereignty.
Overall, Catalonia experiences similar trends as the rest of Spain in terms of land loss, land abandonment, farmland degradation, land concentration, increase in land prices and land speculation. Specific data and features are the following:
The average farm size in Catalonia has increased from 17 hectares in 1999 to 21 hectares in 2007. However, this increase is not equally experienced. Farms over 50 hectares have increased in number, while those under 10 hectares have decreased. The combined effects of the EU Government of Catalonia policies have meant multiple restructuring plans, aimed at modernising farms and consolidating their competitiveness.
Half of the farms have less than 1 UAA, 33% of farms between 1-2 UAA, and the 16% more than 2 UAA. During the period 1999-2007 only the farms with more than 3 UAA further increased their workforce.
In 2012, the official average land price in Catalonia is 12.300 €/ha, up from 5.600€/ha in 1997, i.e.an increase of 220% in 15 years. There are important intra-regional differences, based on the area and on type of land. For instance, in Catalonia, irrigation agricultural land costs 27.400€/ha on average and dry agricultural land 8.200 (2012).
However, it is important to highlight that these prices are the official ones, and there is a vastly extended black market. Actual prices can easily double official ones.
The weight of livestock farming: land use for manure
Not less important is the livestock problem in Catalonia. While the number of cows and sheep has decreased, since 1997, the number of pigs has increased significantly from 4.980.000 in 1997 to 6.820.000 in 2014. 7 Such intensive livestock production takes up a high percentage of land in order to justify adequate livestock manure deposition.
Agricultural statistics for Spain:
Ministerio de Agricultura, Alimentación y Medio Ambiente (MAGRAMA), in particular Encuesta de precios de la tierra 2012: principales resultados, 2013
Soler, C., Land Concentration in Spain, in Revista Soberanía Alimentaria, 2014 (in Spanish)
Agricultural statistics for Catalonia:
Departament d’Agricultura, Ramaderia, Pesca i Alimentació de la Generalitat de Catalunya, in particular studies on land prices in Catalonia
Statistics Institute of Catalonia (IDESCAT), in particular the study Els canvis en les explotacions agràries catalanes (1999-2007), 2009
Philippe Pointereau et al, Analysis of Farmland Abandonment and the Extent and Location of Agricultural Areas that are Actually Abandoned or are in Risk to be Abandoned, Institute for Environment and Sustainability and European Commission Joint Research Centre, 2008
Michel MERLET, Comparative study of land policies in Europe. Country study: Spain, aGter, 2011, unpublished document (in French)