2018 Harvest Survey Reveals Season Marked by Climatic Challenges

Olive Oil Times asked producers around the world how they fared during the 2018 olive harvest season.

By Olive Oil Times Staff
Mar. 13, 2019 11:16 UTC

In Australia it was drought. In France, there was too much rain. Farmers in the U.S. said exces­sive heat was a major cause. In Greece, it was the olive fruit fly and in Italy, all of the above.

In a sur­vey this week con­ducted by Olive Oil Times, 4,832 pro­duc­ers in 30 coun­tries around the world were asked how they fared dur­ing the 2018 olive har­vest sea­son.

Their answers under­score the cycli­cal nature of olive farm­ing, weather con­di­tions that seem ever more extreme, and both the vul­ner­a­bil­ity and resilience of the olive tree.

Almost none of the respon­dents char­ac­ter­ized the 2018 sea­son as aver­age.’ In this year it seems Mother Nature dealt win­ning hands, and los­ing ones.

Most pro­duc­ers (61.3 per­cent) scored their sea­son bet­ter than aver­age over­all, 38 per­cent said it was below aver­age.

In terms of yield, 66 per­cent said it was aver­age or higher, and the aver­age score across all respon­dents for olive oil quan­tity was 5.4 out of 10.

But the results were bet­ter when asked how they would rate the qual­ity of their olive oils: 88.7 per­cent of respon­dents said the oil they pro­duced was aver­age or bet­ter, with 63.8 per­cent scor­ing the qual­ity an 8 or higher on a scale of zero to ten and an aver­age across all respon­dents of 7.4.

When asked about the chal­lenges that affected the har­vest, the olive fruit fly was the most com­monly cited, with 35.6 per­cent of respon­dents blam­ing the pest for their woes.

Poor weather, such as rain at crit­i­cal times, not enough cool days or exces­sive humid­ity caused trou­ble for 30 per­cent of pro­duc­ers.

Excessive heat was cited by 23.1 per­cent; and, iron­i­cally, too much rain (23.1 per­cent) and drought (21.2 per­cent) were nearly equal in their effect on respon­dents.

Xylella fas­tidiosa, the bac­te­ria out­break affect­ing farms in Puglia most severely, was cited by 1.9 per­cent of respon­dents.

Deep freezes, includ­ing last February’s arc­tic blast dubbed the Beast from the East” affected the har­vest of 15 per­cent of the pro­duc­ers.

There was a con­sen­sus that the mount­ing cli­matic extremes would call for vig­i­lance and even greater sac­ri­fice than the heroic sac­ri­fices olive oil pro­duc­tion has always required.

We have to admit that it was a dif­fi­cult har­vest year regard­ing both the quan­tity and the qual­ity,” said a farmer in Greece. However, through pre­ven­tive actions in the olive groves and a very care­ful olive oil extrac­tion process, we man­aged to get some high-qual­ity olive oil for this har­vest year.”


The year was a drama for us. There were too much rain and high tem­per­a­tures,” said another Greek pro­ducer. These weather con­di­tions hap­pen one in ten years in our region, and because of that, we pro­duced small quan­ti­ties of EVOO and green table olives. From our three types of local olive tree vari­eties, only one man­aged to pro­duce EVOO with high qual­ity.”

Another said, Our most chal­leng­ing har­vest, deal­ing with the weather and fruit fly! But our pas­sion for qual­ity and will­ing­ness to sac­ri­fice even fur­ther our yield for the over­all good of our olive oil and rep­u­ta­tion will sep­a­rate the pro­duc­ers ded­i­cated to qual­ity this year. We hope to be one of them.”

With so much being said this year about the lay­ers of chal­lenges fac­ing farms in Italy, the responses to the sur­vey cau­tioned against mak­ing gen­er­al­iza­tions in a coun­try marked by its dis­tinct regions, ter­roirs and micro­cli­mates.

While there are farm­ers in the thick of Puglia’s con­t­a­m­i­nated zone who see lit­tle hope for their cher­ished trees, and inland farms where groves were destroyed by a Siberian freeze, many farms were spared and man­aged to come away this sea­son with good results.

Here in Cortona-Tuscany, we had one of the best har­vests and EVOO pro­duc­tion ever,” said an Italian farmer.

To counter adverse fac­tors, we started the har­vest ear­lier and accel­er­ated the process, also through night pick­ing,” another farmer explained.

The responses from Italian pro­duc­ers helped explain the his­tor­i­cally low yields this year, even while they would char­ac­ter­ize as high qual­ity the lit­tle oil they man­aged to pro­duce.

We had a very good sea­son,” said one olive oil pro­ducer whose response was echoed by many oth­ers. Our choice was less quan­tity but excel­lent qual­ity.”

In Spain, where the higher pro­duc­tion this year served to pre­vent a world­wide olive oil short­age, pro­duc­ers were gen­er­ally more upbeat than their Italian coun­ter­parts, but the responses from Spain were nuanced.

Life is get­ting very dif­fi­cult with­out irri­ga­tion in our area (north­east of Spain).”

Harvest looked promis­ing until late August at which time the olives began to ripen quickly. By the mid­dle of October, nearly 90 per­cent of the fruit was on the ground and we opted not to har­vest at all.”

We always have prob­lems with olive fruit fly but the absence of rain till November, the very hot sum­mer and the use of Torula yeast traps meant the dam­age was not bad espe­cially as we started pick­ing in late October, which is very early for Extremadura.”

In Tunisia, a farmer had some advice to offer col­leagues in the face of warm­ing tem­per­a­tures and less rain in the region.

The key les­son is to ensure dur­ing drought years in a chang­ing Mediterranean cli­mate two sup­ple­men­tary irri­ga­tions: The first in March dur­ing the flowering/fruit set­ting stage and the sec­ond in early July dur­ing the olive stone hard­en­ing.”

California pro­duc­ers linked their dis­mal results this sea­son to cli­mate change and the sur­vey respon­dents were more uni­formly down­beat, com­pared with other regions.

It has been the worst I have seen in the 12 years,” one said. I hope we don’t have another like it,” said another.

No olives at all, some vari­eties of trees irrepara­bly dam­aged,” another California farmer lamented.

Skimming the responses from the Olive Oil Times sur­vey elicited the sense among pro­duc­ers that the olive oil land­scape is shift­ing as the effects of a chang­ing cli­mate rip­ple through the regions syn­ony­mous with olive oil pro­duc­tion and beyond.

We are now forced to look at chang­ing tem­per­a­tures in other micro­cli­mates to con­sider if plant­ing in what were oth­er­wise over­looked areas are now plantable to pro­vide olives for great oil,” said a farmer in California.


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