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Dehesa Threatened by Drought and Fungus

Posted November 20, 2009

I read a recent article with great concern. Apparently the dehesa, for centuries the home of the cerdo Ibérico / Iberian pata negra pig is in grave danger, due to the extended drought it is experiencing as well as an encroaching fungus. 

For some time phytophthora, has threatened the primeval forest which stretches across parts of Extremadura and Andalucía. The meadowland and wooded pastures which are typical of the dehesa are the prime grazing area for the Iberian pig. Holm oaks are key to the production of iberico de bellota hams. The trees populate the dehesa and produce the acorns on which the pigs feed. 

However more than 500 separate areas of infection have been identified in the area and in the long run this could affect the well being of the Ibérico pigs, and therefore the production of the coveted jamón Ibérico. Phytophthora affects the roots of trees, making it more difficult for them to absorb enough water. The prolonged period of drought has caused it to spread. Last summer was the hottest in Spain in 48 years. In 2008, the drought affected ten per cent of the 6.1 million acres of the Spanish dehesa.

Fortunately, younger trees are more resilient when attacked by phytophthora which may auger well for the future, but at present virtually all of the area is populated by orchards of ancient holm oaks which are adversely affected by the trauma of water deprivation. But of course the new saplings need to grow into strong trees – in the interim they are tasty morsels for foraging pigs.