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.

Mar 13, 2019 11:16 AM EDT
By Olive Oil Times Staff

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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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