Rice Growing in Valencia, Spain
The Muslims introduced rice growing to the Valencia region in southeast Spainin the year 711AD, and today vast paddy fields grow acres of world famous Valencian rice which make perfect paellas.
Rice requires a lot of water to grow, and so the natural marshes of Pego/Oliva which is halfway between the coastal cities of Valencia and Alicante make a perfect location for growing rice, as well as many villages along the coast including Sueca and other areas of natural wetlands.
Three types of rice are grown here, Bomba, Senia and Bahía.
It takes an entire year to grow a crop of rice.
It starts in the winter with the planting of forage crops, which enriches and fertilizes the soil. In March, clay is added round the edges of the paddy fields to help retain the water. A tractor fitted with a type of water wheel then turns the soil over and mixes it well with the water, making a fine clay. The seeds are then distributed uniformly.
By May the water will have heated up as temperatures rise and the rice plants will have grown to 30cms high. They are then ready to uproot and re-plant in their growing positions in other fields.
The other fields will also have been under water for large parts of the winter, allowing the rapid break down of organic material, making them the perfect beds for the new season's crops.
Harvesting begins in September. Threshing separates the grain from the stem and they are all then dried out completely, and stored.
To finish off, the rice is ground to separate the grain from its shell, and its surface polished to remove its natural brown color if white rice is required. Brown rice is unpolished grain.
The rice grown in Valencia is 100% organic, as the rice farmers use traditional methods to grow and produce the rice.
Unfortunately they are unable to label it as 'organic' because the laws that govern organic produce require expensive paperwork and licences that the Valencian rice farmer cannot afford.
As it is, growing rice is labor-intensive, and as described above, takes a whole year to grow a crop of rice and have it ready for sale, between preparing the ground naturally through to drying and grinding the final product.
Spanish farmers are also facing stiff competition from abroad with the importation of rice from other countries where labor is cheaper.
Spanish rice farmers are subsided under the European aid package, without which they would no longer be able to afford to grow rice which is one of the cheaper commodities in the world.
The most prestigious rice grown in Valencia is Bomba rice, which is known for its ability to absorb twice its weight in liquid without spoiling, giving it good flavor characteristics for typical Mediterranean dishes.
It is not grown in large production because yields are low and, consequently, its price is considerably higher than other varieties (Bahia, Sequial, Sendra ...), which gives it a certain exclusivity.
In the Pego-Oliva marsh in Valencian rice group 'Les Tanques' grow Bomba rice in the old style, with completely traditional methods, without chemical pesticides and fertilizers, totally organically.
However, farmers who produce it cannot officially say that is 'organic' because the label to say so is too expensive, and actually costs more than the rice is worth.
Dominguis Vincent is president of the group 'Les Tanques' (a Valenciano name which means 'the closed', referring to the closing of areas by building banks of clay round the fields to retain the water needed to grow rice).
Dominguis thinks that the name 'Les Tanques' must have a Spanish origin, "because some older people still speak of' Sa Tanca", and the word 'sa' is Balearic."
"Rice growing has a very old tradition in the Pego-Oliva marsh, but there were decades of paralysis from the seventies, when the Ministry of Agriculture launched a controversial land consolidation process which was never finalized.
When the Generalitat Valenciana (Valencian autonomous government) became responsible for the land, in the early eighties, they hoped it would become the new Disney amusement park which was to be built in Europe, but which ended up being built in Paris. A major investment center with buildings which would attract crowds of visitors with money to spend was planned.
Instead, in the midst of it of all this vast expanse of land, we produce rice of high standing."
To date, the farmers are still waiting for the land to be returned to them.
Today, the marsh is the Parque Natural de Pego-Oliva, (Pego-Oliva Natural Park) where rice is grown in only 1,500 of the 3,500 hectares possible.