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Tomato processing in Spain: an example of integration, sustainability and resilience

02/09/2021 - Press release , François-Xavier Branthôme - Lire en français
Based on the report published by José Luis Llerena Ruiz, Director of the CTAEX, in the periodical "Mercasa, Distribución y Consumo", 2021 - Vol. 2

The processing tomato industry is one of the best structured value chains of the Spanish agricultural sector, based on fruit and vegetable producers' organizations, which deliver their crops to 17 factories, of which several manufacture end-products for consumers. This report, which was put together by the CTAEX (Centro Tecnológico Agroalimentario Extremadura), also underlines the importance of this industry in Extremadura, and the position of Spain among the world's main producing and exporting countries.
The authors of the report insist on the vital contribution of processing tomato growers, who work according to criteria of efficiency and sustainability thanks to the implementation of the best available techniques in the areas of water usage, fertilizers and plant health inputs.

Out of more than 38 million tonnes produced around the world in 2020, 2.7 million tonnes of tomatoes were processed in Spain, making this the fourth ranking country worldwide, behind the United States, Italy and China.

In Spain, tomato production has been focused (by order of importance) in the Guadiana region, the Guadalquivir region and the Ebro River valley, thereby making the Extremadura region the main production area, with close on 70% of Spain's crops.
 In this last region, production has been structured around about 20 Producers' Organizations working in the fruit and vegetable sector (OPFH): these POs supply 14 processing companies that manufacture tomato paste, dehydrated powders and chopped tomatoes, with an increasingly large production of finished products like ketchup, tomato frito sauce, peeled tomatoes, etc.
This agro-industrial network of growers and processors is an excellent example of interbranch communication: an interbranch commission for processing tomatoes was set up during the 90s, now called the Mesa del Tomate (“tomato table”), where growers and processors work together to carry out self-controlled quality checks that focus both on the commercial aspects and on the issue of pesticide and health input residues, representing an excellent quality-control system.

One notable aspect of the progress achieved by the Spanish industry has been the increase in agricultural yields, which have grown from 90 mT/ha in 2001 to close on 100 mT/ha in recent years. This increase in productivity in Extremadura can be attributed to a number of important factors like the implementation of the Common Agricultural Policy, which finances the operational programs in which producers' improvement strategies are instigated, making it possible to access vital investments aimed at making the crops more efficient, like localized irrigation and fertilization.
Another factor that has played a key role has been varietal improvement, which has allowed growers to use cultivars that are adapted to specific production needs.

This progress is also due to the excellent professionalism of growers, who have been very proactive and known how to benefit from technological innovations. They are supported in their approach by a network of technicians who provide advice as to production methodologies, under the aegis of the Agrupaciones Técnicas de Sanidad Vegetal (ATESVES, or Technical Agency for Plant Health), which ensures the implementation of integrated production standards. Another example of joint action aimed at reinforcing the industry has been the acquisition and implementation by the main cooperatives and tomato processing companies of the CTAEX (National Center of Food Technology), which has been equipped with an experimental agricultural station, a pilot factory and laboratories. Between 2001 and 2010, the CTAEX carried out a joint program for technology transfer, as well as agronomic and industrial testing performed by all of the industry’s stakeholders gathered together by the Mesa del Tomate, aiming to increase the productivity of crops while complying with all of the parameters required by integrated production standards.

The approval of the Proyecto Singular y Estratégico (singular and strategic project) for semi-finished tomato products has been a catalyzer for research in this sub-sector of the food industry, where operators have taken a global approach to crops, processing operations and the valorization of by-products. This has enabled the transfer of significant results for both growers and processors.
Following this, important initiatives have been launched in the area of by-product valorization, like the European Biocopac project, which takes by-products from tomato skins in order to produce varnishes that can be used in coating metal packaging.
The operational group TOMPRINT is another important stage of this process, with five major processors (Conesa, Tomates del Guadiana, Pronat, Alsat and Tomalia), supported by two technological companies (IAAS365 and Solucionex) and the CTAEX, collaborating to set up a system to measure the environmental "water and carbon" footprint of the processing tomato industry, with financial support from the Extremaduran government, the FEDER program and the Ministry of Agriculture. In a similar fashion, the work of the operational SMARTOM group has been crucial, with the financial support of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, of the FEDER and of a group made up of Soltel, Ambling, Acopaex, Cartogalicia, l’Instituto Tecnológico de Galicia and CTAEX. This system has benefited from the support of Extremadura's food industry cooperatives, enabling the setting up of an overall management platform for processing tomato production.

 Finally, one of the important initiatives carried out in recent years in Extremadura has resulted in a major technology dissemination program, in which the CICYTEX (Centro de Investigaciones Científicas y Tecnológicas de Extremadura, or Center for Scientific and Technological Research of Extremadura), helps communicate research results, on the model of the CTAEX, which are made available on the Tomato Observatory's website This resource provides an intelligent system for searching through technological information that is categorized and filed to be used by the industry.

The value chain
In Extremadura, the agricultural production sector is based on 23 fruit and vegetable Producers' Organizations, among which the most notable are Acopaex, Casat and AN, and on 14 first-stage processing factories of which 3 are specifically dedicated to manufacturing dehydrated tomato powder, with 6 remanufacturing sites, including 3 that do not carry out any first-stage processing operations (Nestlé and Tomcoex in Miajadas, and ASTEX at Villafranco).

Analysis of export activities
Spain is one of the world's main exporting countries of tomato products. Spanish exports ranked the country in third place worldwide, except in the sauces sector where Spain ranks fifth among the world's operators (see also complementary information provided at the end of this article).

Future challenges
It is now commonly accepted that processing tomatoes make up an important value chain in Extremadura, involving farms and growers where efficiency and sustainability are valued, with operators who want to use the best techniques available and are concerned about optimizing the use of water, fertilizers and plant health inputs.
The tomato processing agricultural sector must increase its productivity and reduce its costs, while the processing industry must focus on Industry 4.0 and on monitoring in order to reach greater energy efficiency, particularly in terms of logistics, an activity that offers a big progress margin insofar as land transport infrastructures are an impediment to the competitiveness of the sector.

The opportunity presented by the support plan implemented thanks to funds for relaunching and consolidating the tomato processing sector is based on the example of the value chain of the food industry as a whole, and this should allow authorities to demonstrate once again that making use of digital technology and energy efficiency tools contributes to greater sustainability.

Some additional information
 José Luis Llerena Ruiz, Director of the CTAEX (National Center for Food Technology), Ana Serrano Mordillo, in charge of technology transfer for the CTAEX, Sara Machuca Cano, technology transfer te
chnician for the CTAEX
The article is available in Spanish by following this link:

Main tomato product exporting countries,
by sector
The main country to export tomato paste and powders (code TARIC 200290) is Italy, followed by China and Spain, which ranks third worldwide.

Germany stands out in the ranking of the main importing countries for tomato pastes and powders (TARIC 200290), followed by Japan and the United Kingdom.

An analysis of Spanish exports of industrially processed tomato products shows that canned tomatoes produced in Extremadura account for 48% of Spain's overall export volumes. In terms of products, tomato paste accounts for 64% of the total, against 23% for ketchup, and only 1.4% for juices.

Source: CTAEX
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