Puglia is Italy’s greatest olive oil producing region, accounting for about 40 percent of the country’s annual production of 550 thousand tons of olive oil. It’s estimated that there are 60 million olive trees in Puglia, and people like to say that’s one for each of Italy’s 60 million people.
About six million of the trees are considered monumentali or monumental trees and just under half a million trees are known as ulivi secolari or centuries-old trees.
A project to map the trees with satellite photographs is under way. Each tree will be individually cataloged and form part of a database. Puglia’s environmental official, Lorenzo Nicastro, said the census would cost € 250,000 and it would be a valuable tool for the agency tasked with protecting the trees, as well as granting or denying permission for the transplantation of trees.
In 2007 a law was introduced to protect monumental and ancient trees from transplantation and destruction. Photographs of time sculpted olives transplanted to the gardens of weekend villas belonging to Milanese businessmen (Berlusconi among them) galvanized support for olive tree protection in Puglia and led to the successful passage of the law. The 2007 law was set to expire at the end of this month, but it has been extended with some modifications.
Depressed prices for olive oil are tempting farmers to sell olive planted land to real estate developers or produce more lucrative crops. Italy’s high electricity costs, and government incentives, have made photovoltaic farms (solar panel fields) a very popular crop choice to replace olives.