Bad Weather Ahead of Harvest Dampens Spirits of Italy's Olive Oil Producers

Extreme weather events – ranging from hail storms to flash flooding – have impacted olive growers across Italy. For many farmers, hopes of a promising harvest have washed away.
By Paolo DeAndreis
Sep. 14, 2020 09:04 UTC

Heavy rains, hail­storms and other extreme weather events have wreaked havoc in Italy over the past few weeks, caus­ing severe dam­age to olive trees, grape vines and a num­ber of other crops.

In the north of the coun­try, thou­sands of olive trees have been dam­aged by strong storms. Citing data pro­vided by the European Severe Weather Database (ESWD), the Italian farm­ing asso­ci­a­tion, Coldiretti, said that the coun­try has expe­ri­enced up to nine storms per day, severely impact­ing many farm­ing oper­a­tions across the coun­try.

(2020) is a year to be for­got­ten for agri­cul­ture. The (Covid-19 pan­demic) was not enough, we also had the dev­as­tat­ing impact of cli­mate events that in a mat­ter of min­utes destroy the hard work of farm­ers.- Paola Agabiti, Secretary of Agriculture, Umbrian region

In the province of Bergamo alone, almost 50 hectares (124 acres) of olive trees have been dam­aged by strong winds and large grains of hail, with many los­ing most or all of their dru­pes.

See Also:2020 Harvest Updates

Coldiretti esti­mated that the stormy weather has impacted more than one-third of the area’s olive groves. Some farm­ers in the region have reported los­ing 90 per­cent of olives on affected trees.

We had high hopes for the incom­ing har­vest, but in just a few min­utes the chance to recover from last year’s bad har­vest van­ished,” Andrea Longaretti, head of the olive sec­tor at Coldiretti Bergamo, said. Olives at this time are in a del­i­cate phase since they grow ripe dur­ing this sea­son, and this means that the dam­ages incurred are irrecov­er­able.”

Further west in the Piedmont region, cere­als, fruits and veg­eta­bles have suf­fered through heavy hail storms for weeks, with the worst dam­age being done in the past few days.

Farmers from Cuneo have lost many of the crops ready to be har­vested and agri­cul­tural oper­a­tions across the province also have recorded dam­age to equip­ment and infra­struc­ture.

According to Coldiretti, one-third of all Italian fruit pro­duc­tion will be lost as a result.

About 560 miles south­east, the region of Puglia has expe­ri­enced record cloud­bursts. The local branch of Coldiretti warned that unstop­pable wind, rain and flood­ing” had dam­aged numer­ous crops, includ­ing toma­toes in Foggia and the vine­yards of Brindisi.

Puglia is by far the largest olive oil pro­duc­ing region in Italy and recent weather events have local pro­duc­ers wor­ried. Many of the area’s groves already suf­fered from flood­ing and hail storms dur­ing July and farm­ers are wor­ried that more bad weather may be on the hori­zon.

Hail storms have also been prob­lem­atic for olive oil pro­duc­ers in the cen­tral region of Umbria, dam­ag­ing olive groves, vine­yards and other crops as well.

What we wit­nessed dur­ing this sum­mer is the result of the huge ther­mic energy accu­mu­lated in the atmos­phere dur­ing the last year, in which tem­per­a­tures have been more than 1 ºC (1.8 ºF) above the aver­age,” Coldiretti said. It has been one of the hottest years for Italy since 1800.”

In spite of the abnor­mal cloud­bursts and flood­ing, 2020 has actu­ally been quite a dry year in Italy, with the coun­try record­ing 33 per­cent less rain­fall than aver­age.

We are wit­ness­ing the con­se­quences of cli­mate change, with a ten­dency toward a trop­i­cal cli­mate, man­i­fest­ing itself with larger hail, a higher fre­quency of vio­lent events, short and intense rain­fall and the rapid tran­si­tion from sun to bad weather,” the farm­ing asso­ci­a­tion said.

Coldiretti esti­mated that €14 bil­lion ($16.5 bil­lion) worth of dam­age has been done over the last decade to the agri­cul­tural sec­tor and asso­ci­ated infra­struc­tures as a result of flood­ing and land­slides.

In response to these dis­as­ters, Teresa Bellanova, the min­is­ter of agri­cul­ture, announced that she would look into new ini­tia­tives and grants for farm­ers and agri­cul­tural orga­ni­za­tions that reduce soil con­sump­tion, which con­tributes to flood­ing.

The agri­cul­tural sec­tor is the most com­mit­ted to com­bat­ing cli­mate change, unfor­tu­nately it is also the most affected,” Paola Agabiti, sec­re­tary of agri­cul­ture in the Umbrian region, said. “[2020] is a year to be for­got­ten for agri­cul­ture. The [Covid-19 pan­demic] was not enough, we also had the dev­as­tat­ing impact of cli­mate events that in a mat­ter of min­utes destroy the hard work of farm­ers.”


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