Spain, home of the Mediterranean diet, is reveling in its new designation as the healthiest country in the world.
The Bloomberg Healthy Country Index bestowed the 2019 title on Spain earlier this year, surprising many observers who expected perennial favourites from Scandinavian countries -- such as Norway and Sweden -- to prevail.
After all, how many times have you heard the average Scandinavian is umpteen times healthier than his or her much younger counterpart elsewhere?
The Spanish themselves weren’t surprised at winning the crown, though. They’d long thought their traditional and zesty fruit-and-vegetable rich diet, which they balance with low-fat animal protein (particularly seafood), gave them a leg up on the healthy-country scale. They have the research to support it -- in 2013, the New England Journal of Medicine turned heads when it reported on how the Mediterranean diet can help prevent cardiovascular disease.
The Bloomberg index considered factors beyond diet, such as Spain’s excellent health care system and a social culture that emphasizes family values over the daily grind. But there’s no question diet contributed significantly to it being well on its way to overtaking Japan by 2040 as the country with the longest life expectancy in the world.
In Canada, we have a long way to go. We came in at No. 16 in the Bloomberg report, just ahead of South Korea and behind The Netherlands. University of Guelph human health and nutritional scientist Prof. Alison Duncan says we could take a lesson from Spain.
“The Mediterranean dietary pattern is very healthy with its high intake of fruits, vegetables, nuts and olive oil, its moderate intake of fish and poultry and its low intake of processed meats, sweets, red meat and dairy, as well as wine in moderation with meals,” she says. “It’s not only a diet but a culture and Canadians could learn a lot from both the components of the diet but also the approach of enjoying and savouring foods, including fruits and vegetables.”
This dietary phenomenon shows in the growth of Mediterranean-type food and beverage exports on the world market. From 2015-2017, fruit exports rose 120 per cent to US$107 billion, vegetables were up 100 per cent to US$68.7 billion, wine exports increased 70 per cent to US$32 billion and olive oil jumped 61 per cent to US$8.1 billion. Globally, Europe is leading the trend, where consumption traits there have significantly boosted equipment sales related to plant production and specialty crops.
So how perfect, then, that ultra-healthy Spain – home of many of the fruit and vegetables (olives and grapes in particular) that are contributing to the country’s lofty healthiness status – was chosen to host the bi-annual Agrievolution Summit this year, an impressive event dedicated to advances in agricultural production and processing equipment.
The Agrievolution Summit is staged by the Agrievolution Alliance, the global voice for about 6,000 agricultural equipment manufacturers around the world and 15 individual associations (including the Milwaukee-based Association of Equipment Manufacturers, which represents North America).
For the first time, this year’s seventh summit had two themes and two locales: training and education for the future, held in Madrid, and the mechanization of specialty crops, which took place in Valencia near the Mediterranean coast, in conjunction with a huge three-day field demonstration show called Demoagro Specialty. There, instead of corn and soybean plots you’d see at something such as Canada’s Outdoor Farm Show, 23 hectares of vineyards and citrus trees – lemons and persimmons, among them – were featured, along with non-stop equipment demonstrations by 30 manufacturers, big and small.
The buzz around the new equipment, including smart sprayers, atomizers and super-compact, high-tech tractors with reversible driving systems, was palpable. Participants seemed particularly enthralled with the futuristic-looking New Holland BRAUD 9090X grape harvester, both during well-attended field demonstrations and later at the company’s busy display area.
Growers know they need to be profitable to afford new equipment. Ignacio Ruiz, secretary general of ANSEMAT, the Spanish agricultural machinery association, says intensive and super-intensive plantations are overtaking fields once used for arable crops, and the need for more efficient equipment is paramount.
As well, he says, consumers have higher aesthetic expectations for the commodities they purchase, putting even more pressure on new equipment.
“The main driver of the price of specialty crops is the quality of the product, particularly its organoleptic properties which are highly appreciated by consumers,” he says. “Any alteration of such qualities may lead to a drop in the price of the product. So special care must be taken during last days in the trees. Harvesting techniques, transport, handling, calibration, classification and packaging require specific equipment to preserve quality from the trees to the consumer table.”
Specialty crop equipment growth is a bright spot in farm equipment manufacturing overall. Trade wars and challenging growing seasons globally have deterred many tractor and combine buyers this year; sales have been up and down, but mostly flat.
However, if healthy-eating trends continue to throw the spotlight on the Mediterranean diet and plant-based diets, specialty equipment growth is likely to be more than a short-term trend and spread beyond Europe to other continents.
Equipment-wise, Canada is already part of that revolution, with new European equipment starting to show up in producers’ fields, orchards and vineyards. This country is ready to be an active player in long-term change.