The Almaco del Guadalquivir company is located in the Guadalquivir valley, in Palma del Río (Córdoba). This manages the Cortijo Calonge estate, where it grows walnuts. According to Borja Murube, director of this agribusiness project that started in 2012, agricultural exploitation stands out for being the first in Europe specialized in the Howard variety. In total it has almost 300 hectares and among the objectives of this team is to continue improving in sustainable and quality production.
The demand for nuts worldwide is growing more and more. In the national market, interest in the Spanish nut and pecan has grown, thanks to its quality and, above all, its flavor. At present, approximately 70% of its consumption comes from foreign markets, so some agrifood companies are developing Spanish nut marketing plans with the objective of gaining market share in this product.
This is the case of Almaco del Guadalquivir. In 2012, the company’s team of technicians launched an investigation of the main nut-producing areas in the world. In the results they observed that some new varieties were less demanding of cold hours, and that they were even grown in hotter areas of southern California.
With these data, they decided to address this crop in Spain and implement the production of the Howard (60%) and Chandler (40%) variety in Palma del Río, Córdoba. A location that, thanks to its climatic conditions, has always been oriented to the production of citrus, fruit and vegetables, and that meets the appropriate agronomic conditions for these crops. “This was a project with risk. To improve our technique we have done particular studies of the plot and visits to different farms in Europe, Chile and California ”, highlights the project director.
Borja has previous experience of more than 30 years in investment banking. He has a degree and Master in Business Administration and Management, and has been responsible for analyzing the economic viability of the “Nueces de Calonge” project. In addition, he holds technical degrees from the International Council of Nuts (INC) and is the vice president of the Spanish Association of Nut Producers, established two years ago under the umbrella of the Spanish Federation of Associations of Fruit and Vegetable Exporters (FEPEX) . Apart from Borja, the Almaco del Guadalquivir team is composed of a field director who, depending on the time, is in charge of about 25 employees, and a plant manager, with more than 30 years of experience in the management and elaboration of agricultural products. This figure is responsible for the production system, quality, packaging, etc. and at the time of maximum activity of the plant is responsible for another 20 employees.
Cortijo Calonge Farm
One of the competitive advantages of walnuts under the “Nuts of Calonge” brand is that the farm where they are grown is the southernmost in Europe, so that longer temperatures set a more agile production pace in the culture. This allows them to be earlier in the harvest, entering the first half of September, with very early varieties, continuing with Howard to finish with Chandler at the end of October at the most. It also allows the product to enter the market before that of other Spanish producers (of much lower volumes). Internationally it also appears before, at a time when the Californian and French nut is still in the tree.
The farm has planted almost 300 hectares of walnuts (95%) and pecan (5%). In addition, they have agreements for the management of another 100 hectares in the area. In terms of crop yield, taking into account that this year is really the first harvest, they estimate reaching more than 200 tons of nuts and 10 pecans. But for next campaigns, 1,500 tons of nuts and 70 pecans are reached in this same farm.
The ground of this plot is of excellent quality, healthy and with no tendency to pool. Proof of this is the history of crops that it has had: asparagus, potato, corn, stone fruit, orange, plum, and all with full production success. In this sense, the farm has undergone a thorough cataloging of soils with 32 texture variations greater than 20%, resulting in an average of 47% sand, 25% silt and 28% clay.
Watering is drip. The needs vary greatly depending on the rainfall of the year, especially in spring. “The really important thing is to give the tree the water it needs, the excess being more dangerous than the lack. We use depth probes, measure the stomatic pressure of the leaves, etc. so as not to fail in this calculation. It is possibly one of the most important parts of this crop, ”says Borja. Depending on the orographic characteristics and the irrigation pre-installations, the cost from its plantation to the first harvest (4th year walnut and 7th year pecan) can be around € 15,000 in walnut trees, and about € 9,000 in pecan. However, once the trees are adults, Borja aspires to 9,000 euros per hectare per year.
These crops are very sensitive to many pests and diseases. Specifically, they suffer attacks of green mosquito, red spider, carpocapsa, etc., and as anthracnose and bacteriosis diseases stand out. “Our management system is very environmentally friendly, so we encourage the proliferation of auxiliary fauna that fight pests,” says Murube.
Research and innovation
Almaco del Guadalquivir works in two basic lines: the first is to intensify the sustainability of the crop from the efficiency in the consumption of water and energy in the field. In this case they are carrying out the REDAWN Project, by which they generate electricity using the excess water pressure in the main irrigation pipes; They are also betting on the reuse of pruning shells and nutshell; and for the application of biostimulants for a future conversion to organic production. In addition, they are working on the improvement of the environment from the efficiency in the peeling, drying and packing of nuts, both in the energy aspect and in the incorporation of new quality control systems.
The line they are committed to is to include projects and collaborations with universities. In this case, the company has an agreement with the University of Córdoba to study the properties of the nutshell.
On the other hand, in terms of innovation and technology, Almaco del Guadalquivir is monitoring the development of the grove with satellite systems, systems for measuring fertilizer and water contributions, and even using drones to pollinate female flowers. They are also using advanced postharvest systems.
Nueces de Calonge, a gourmet product
“In our production, the flavor and size of the dried fruit stand out. If we take these last parameters, we are talking about a gourmet product, ”says Borja. The main channel of these fruits is the wholesale sale via large supermarket chains, which have a lot of interest in medium-high sizes. The shellless nut is also demanded by some catering groups and the industry. “We only split 10% of our production. The main objective is to sell 50% of the production in Spain and 50% abroad, ”says Borja.
As for the short / medium term objectives, it is proposed to increase planted areas, either through the acquisition of new farms or through agreements with farm owners interested in this crop. Spain is short of nuts and pecans, as is the European Union. In this regard, his interest is also to start exports to Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom. On the other hand, they are exploring the possibility of industrially transforming a part of their production and making an offer of new nut and pecan products with greater added value, as well as new formats.