Climate Change and Spanish Irrigated Agriculture The Challenge

Irrigation is largely the main water user in most countries. Worldwide agricultural production in irrigated area is, in average, more than twice the production in rainfed zones, despite that irrigated area is lesser than 25% of the total agricultural area. The increment of world population and their feeding needs point toward an efficient agriculture and therefore irrigation is an absolute need. Irrigated agricultural land means approximately 350 million ha in the world. Irrigated areas are responsible for approximately 40% of the global food production (Smedema et al., 2000).

According to EUROSTAT data, irrigated area comprised 14 807 980 ha in the EU-25 during 2003. It meant 9.5% of the total EU agricultural area. The irrigated area corresponding to the EU Mediterranean countries (i.e. Spain, Italy, France and Greece) is more than 80% of the total EU-25 irrigated area. Particularly, Spanish irrigated area is 30% of the total EU-25 area, which makes Spain as the country with the largest irrigated area in the EU. Irrigated area is about 20% of the total cropped area in Spain, which means more than twice the average EU ratio. Despite their location corresponds to the temperate climate area, solar radiation rates in Mediterranean countries are relatively high. This radiation conditions could lead to higher crop transpiration rates and hence suitable agricultural productions. However, water availability constraints in Mediterranean agriculture are higher than those found in other places of the world. Therefore, rainfed production in those countries of common crops is usually lower than that found, for instance, in Northern Europe.

Table 1 shows the most relevant crops in Spain, according to the Ministry of Agriculture report (MAPA, 2004). Table 1 shows also the total cropped area, as well as the corresponding rainfed and irrigated area. Moreover, the Table depicts the percent of each crop area, regarding the total agricultural area; as well as the percent of irrigated area of each crop, respecting the total crop area. As can be seen in the Table, rainfed cereals as Barley and wheat are the most important crops in Spain, although olives and vineyards represent an important cropped area as well. Maize shows the largest irrigation area, followed by vegetables and olives. Irrigated cereals mean also an important percent of the total Spanish irrigated area. Vegetables, Sugarbeet, Maize, Alfalfa and Potatoes are mainly irrigated crops in Spain, since more than 70% of their cropped area is under irrigation.

Table 1: Relevant crops in Spain, according to reported rainfed, irrigated and total cropped area (MAPA, 2004)

Table 1: Relevant crops in Spain, according to reported rainfed, irrigated and total cropped area (MAPA, 2004)


Rainfed (ha)

Irrigated (ha)


% of Total

% Irrigated


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