The practice of using agricultural plastics to cover vegetable and fruit crops has increased in recent years and it’s now a global trend. There are several reasons why farmers around the world are leaning more towards the use of these plastics, one of them being the protection these plastics offer to crops from the environmental damage caused, to a large extent, by global warming and climate change.
Reports of damage caused by intense storms, extreme droughts, floods, and even fires seem to be increasing, a situation that worries and keeps agricultural producers on alert, not only in large agricultural regions such as California in the United States, Chile in Latin America or Spain in Europe but also in all corners of the world where there have been extreme variations in the weather that have negatively affected food production.
According to Borja Devís, Agricultural Engineer of the Polytechnic University of Valencia, Spain, and Head of the Agricultural Plastics Division of Armando Alvarez Group, it’s important to consider these data that’s reported annually in fields around the world, mainly in the markets of Chile, Uruguay, Egypt, Italy and the west coast of the United States, to implement radical measures to help protect fruit tree crops and ensure sustainable agricultural development.
Trends in crops grown under cover and their global market volume
According to Juan Antonio García, Head of the Greenhouse Division of the Armando Alvarez Group, the protected cultivation of vegetables (tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers…) has grown by inertia at the same rate as its demand over the last 20 years.
According to the website Statista, the global consumption of fresh vegetables worldwide in 2021 was around 413.5 billion kilograms (approximately 911.611 billion pounds), a number that increases if we count frozen and canned products. This figure translates into 58.3 million hectares (approximately 144 million acres) dedicated to vegetable cultivation worldwide.
Another crop that García highlights is table grapes, which continues its transformation towards new seedless varieties, following the trend of the demand for this fruit. In this sense, emerging markets are leading the way in terms of the increase in cultivation areas. However, the blueberry crop is the one that has experienced the strongest evolution in the use of covers.
According to a 2021 USDA report, “World blueberry production more than doubled between 2010 and 2019, rising from 439,000 metric tons to nearly 1.0 million. During this time, the number of countries with reportable production expanded from 26 to at least 30, with 27 countries showing growth. In 2010, only 4 countries produced more than 10,000 tons: the United States (224,000 tons), Canada (84,000 tons), Chile (76,000 tons), and France (11,000 tons). The number of countries producing at least 10,000 tons started increasing by 2012 and has not declined since then. By 2019, at least 11 countries were above the 10,000-ton threshold. Peru had the most dramatic expansion, rising from less than 50 tons to nearly 125,000 to become the fourth largest producer behind the United States, Canada, and Chile. Peru is now the world’s leading exporter by value.”
However, China is the market that is tipping the scales even further toward this meteoric growth of blueberry cultivation. According to a publication on the website Fresh Plaza, “from 2011 to 2021, the global blueberry planting area increased by 4,726 hectares (11678.2 acres), with a growth rate of 53% and an average annual growth rate of 4.90%. Over the last ten years, the maximum growth rate of global blueberry planting area was 10.88%, and the minimum level was 1.40%.”
On the other hand, if we talk about table grapes, according to information published by the consulting firm Mordor Intelligence, “the demand for table grapes is growing globally, especially in Asia-Pacific, the Middle East, and Russia. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, global production of fresh grapes, including table grapes, reached 77.13 million metric tons in 2019, which had increased from 75.4 million metric tons in 2017. Therefore, such an increase in production is anticipated to create an attractive market for grape producers globally due to increased demand from diverse consumers.”
According to the report “Table-Grape Cultivation in Soil-Less Systems: A Review” by Hoticulturae, “table grapes are one of the main temperate climate fruits worldwide, with an annual production of about 27 tons. Over the last 20 years, this sector has shown positive trends in terms of production (+70%), consumption (+73%), and international trade (+50%). When it comes to the ranking of producing countries, India (7%), Turkey (7%), Iran (6.3%), Egypt (5.6%), Uzbekistan (4.4%), and Italy (4.1%) are well below China (35.2%), but above the United States (3.7%), Brazil (3%) and Chile (2.6%).”
Cannabis is the hot crop today, with a strong presence entering the business; however, Garcia predicts that growth will tend to slow down to digest or understand the same.
To visualize cannabis cultivation in terms of numbers, ” global cannabis cultivation market size was valued at USD 323.9 billion in 2021 and is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 21.4% from 2022 to 2030,” according to a recent report published on the website Grand View Research.
As for the cut flower sector, its growth was affected by COVID-19, but Garcia assures us that it has recovered during the last few months.
In this regard, the website Research and Markets highlights that “amid the COVID-19 crisis, the global market for Cut Flowers estimated at US$30.7 billion in the year 2020, is projected to reach a revised size of US$43.8 billion by 2027, growing at a CAGR of 5.2% over the analysis period 2020-2027.”
Now, considering global numbers of protected crops, the publication Red Agrícola shows the following map:
To position ourselves in this context and consider this evolution at a global level, we currently stand at around 5.6 million hectares (13.9 million acres) in the use of protected crops in agriculture. In 1980, this figure was 150 thousand hectares (371 thousand acres) and in 1995, the area of protected crops had increased by 500 thousand hectares (1.2 million acres), according to World Greenhouse Vegetable statistics.