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Chilean Producers Work to Prevent Harvest Disruption in the Face of COVID-19

Chilean olive oil producers prepare for an early harvest with a minimum of workers during the predicted peak of COVID-19 in the country.

Harvest at Deleyda (Photos by Carola Dummer Medina)
Apr. 6, 2020
By Carola Dummer Medina
Harvest at Deleyda (Photos by Carola Dummer Medina)

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The Chilean olive oil indus­try is prepar­ing an early start to the har­vest and strip­ping down its work­force to essen­tial per­son­nel, in order to pre­pare for a 2020 pro­duc­tion sea­son while COVID-19 cases peak in the coun­try.

We are part of the food chain and stop­ping is not an option.- Juan José Alonso, Alonso Olive Oil

Though the olive indus­try per­se­vered in the wake of the mag­ni­tude 8.8 earth­quake that hit the coun­try in Feb­ru­ary 2010, the con­di­tions sur­round­ing the har­vest now are even more uncer­tain and com­pli­cated. The indus­try has been on alert since the first cases of COVID-19 appeared in Chile in the first week of March.

The Chilean Min­istry of Health pre­dicts that the COVID-19 pan­demic will peak in the coun­try in May, which is also his­tor­i­cally the peak of the Chilean olive har­vest. In light of this pre­dic­tion, many com­pa­nies have decided to start the olive har­vest next week, to get as much done as pos­si­ble before the restric­tions on move­ment make every­thing more com­pli­cated.

See more: 2020 Har­vest Updates

Our area still has few cases, but we are prepar­ing our­selves in the event that a manda­tory quar­an­tine could be decreed,” explained Héc­tor Tron­coso, agri­cul­tural direc­tor of Qori, a com­pany in the Ovalle area north of San­ti­ago. Tron­coso pointed out that the advance of the har­vest is also due to the fact that the area will face a dry autumn, with a high prob­a­bil­ity of frost.

Deleyda

Agro­nom­i­cally it is a year of high load in Coratina, Fran­toio, Arbosana and Koroneiki, nor­mal in Arbe­quina, Lec­cino and Fran­toio. For­tu­nately, we have had good avail­abil­ity of water … and we hope that our oils will be of very high qual­ity and we will strive to obtain them in the best way,” he said.

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Chile­O­liva, an asso­ci­a­tion of the largest olive oil com­pa­nies in the coun­try, is con­duct­ing a cam­paign to encour­age pro­duc­ers to move for­ward with the har­vest in the face of the pan­demic, asso­ci­a­tion gen­eral man­ager Gabriela Moglia said. The asso­ci­a­tion has also instructed pro­duc­ers to heed Min­istry of Health rec­om­men­da­tions to pro­tect work­ers and pre­vent infec­tions, which could put this year’s pro­duc­tion at risk.

Among these rec­om­men­da­tions are the manda­tory use of masks for all per­son­nel; hand wash­ing and the use of hand san­i­tizer; tem­per­a­ture mon­i­tor­ing of all employ­ees before they begin work each day; and increased fre­quency of san­i­ti­za­tion of all com­pany facil­i­ties.

Alonso

Alonso Olive Oil founder and direc­tor Juan José Alonso, said the com­pany has already imple­mented these mea­sures, has gath­ered all the nec­es­sary sup­plies, and has closed its doors to sup­pli­ers and cus­tomers.

We are part of the food chain and stop­ping [pro­duc­tion] is not an option,” Alonso said. We believe that we will be able to work with our staff, with­out the need to bring in con­trac­tors. [We will start the har­vest early] and the week of April 6 we will already be work­ing at full speed.”

Pro­ducer Deleyda from the cen­tral zone will face its first har­vest with­out the aid of its Ital­ian con­sul­tant.

We [will depend on] the knowl­edge that our team has con­sol­i­dated in Chile [over the last 12 years], and we are con­vinced that we are going to do it well,” said gen­eral man­ager Fer­nando Car­rasco, adding that only the min­i­mum num­ber of work­ers will be per­form­ing each task and that spe­cial pre­cau­tions will be taken to avoid inter­ac­tion between field, mill, pack­ag­ing and admin­is­tra­tion staff.

Monteolivo

Manuel Urmeneta, gen­eral man­ager of Mon­te­o­livo, one of the main exporters in the coun­try, said that, given the cur­rent con­di­tions, every­thing has been slower, includ­ing pur­chases of spare parts and tech­ni­cal ser­vice. Urmeneta said the com­pany is ready to start the har­vest and antic­i­pates a higher pro­duc­tion than in 2019 — about 100,000 more kilos (about 110 tons) of oil.

We are pre­pared to oper­ate with peo­ple who live in the fields or near the fields [rather than trans­fer­ring work­ers or using con­trac­tors],” he said.

There are fewer cases of COVID-19 and more free­dom of move­ment in the regions with the high­est olive oil pro­duc­tion than in the coun­try’s cap­i­tal, San­ti­ago, parts of which have already been quar­an­tined.

Alonso

March was a record month for domes­tic sales, as peo­ple stocked up on olive oil and other sta­ples to pre­pare for quar­an­tine.

In our stores, peo­ple came out with more than two drums (5 liters), which is not the usual behav­ior. We had 22 per­cent more sales in Chile and a very high increase in online [sales],” said Alonso Olive Oil com­mer­cial direc­tor José Manuel Reyes.

Deleyda closed March with 17 per­cent more sales in the Brazil­ian mar­ket, which is its main sales arena.

Peo­ple bought for quar­an­tine, and as always hap­pens to us in times of cri­sis, we increase the sale of pre­mium [oil] ver­sus our clas­sic line,” Car­rasco said.

Both com­pa­nies are con­cerned about what will hap­pen to sales in the hotel and restau­rant chan­nel, which is suf­fer­ing the most dras­tic effects of the cri­sis. Chilean pro­duc­ers will also have to go with­out the annual vis­its from inter­na­tional buy­ers, who usu­ally arrive in mid-April to select the first oils. With­out a doubt, the 2020 har­vest will be very dif­fer­ent than pro­duc­ers had planned.


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