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Figure 2: Absolute differences between Egyptian and Spanish Maize productions (in BT) and yields (in T/ha).

Climate change will impose a new challenge to Spanish and Mediterranean irrigation areas. Improving irrigation efficiency is an imperative, although it has been recognized that much water can still be saved in Spanish irrigation systems (Playan and Mateos, 2005). Some climate-change impact assessments have estimated that CO2 rising will significantly reduce the crop water requirements (Guerena et al., 2001; Villalobos and Fereres, 2004). However, such positive "fertilizing effect" of CO2 rising seems to have been overestimated according to the FACE results (Craft-Brandner and Salvucci, 2004; Aisnworth and Long., 2005). Hence, Spanish irrigated agriculture might be affordable in the future only by reducing the water consumes. Furthermore, the globalisation of the world market and the "cost recovering principle" included in the EU Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC) would lead to prices reductions in the future, while incrementing water costs.

Several examples can be pointed out on the challenge that climate change, combined with WFD and other future policies, could bring to the affordability of irrigated agriculture in Spain. Perhaps the most updated situation concerns Sugarbeet cropping. The EU Commission of Agriculture has proposed a reform to current EU sugar production conditions, which has been strongly rejected by Spanish sugar-beet farmers and producers, as well as those from other countries. The reform implies a substantial reduction of current EU prices. Sugar-beet is mainly an irrigated crop in Spain and other Mediterranean countries; hence the production costs are relatively high due to irrigation. Farmers who use groundwater to irrigate sugar beet are the ones facing the highest problem, due to the increment of oil costs. Furthermore, drought conditions, as that found during 2005 in Spain, can be strengthen in the near future, due to global change. Therefore, farmers need to reduce irrigation costs while cropping Sugarbeet under these new prices and climate conditions. They need help in order to find a reliable irrigation management. This is particularly important in those farms where irrigation modernisation or any irrigation investment in new technologies is expected, due to the amortization of the investment costs.

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