Climate Change Threatens Chalkidiki Table Olive Producers, Research Indicates

Despite a fruitful crop year, the future of Chalkidiki olives is threatened as winter temperatures rise and precipitation falls.

Olives harvesting in a field in Chalkidiki, Greece
By Costas Vasilopoulos
Feb. 22, 2023 17:48 UTC
Olives harvesting in a field in Chalkidiki, Greece

New research from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki has found that the emerg­ing, cli­mate change-fueled weather pat­tern in the north­ern Chalkidiki penin­sula in Greece could jeop­ar­dize the region’s olive farm­ers.

The research, funded by the Chalkidiki Chamber of Commerce, doc­u­mented the changes in the region’s ambi­ent tem­per­a­ture and pre­cip­i­ta­tion lev­els and exam­ined their impact on olive trees.

The rise in tem­per­a­ture, the decrease in rain­fall, as well as the need for water, (which is) par­tic­u­larly impor­tant for olive cul­ti­va­tion, por­tend a bleak future for the olive cul­ti­va­tion in Chalkidiki.- Christina Anagnostopoulou, cli­ma­tol­ogy pro­fes­sor, Aristotle University

According to Christina Anagnostopoulou, a pro­fes­sor of cli­ma­tol­ogy at Aristotle University who led the research, Chalkidiki is becom­ing warmer and drier, dis­rupt­ing the exist­ing pat­tern of olive cul­ti­va­tion on the penin­sula.

Our study exam­ined the con­se­quences of cli­mate change on the olive cul­ti­va­tion of Chalkidiki,” Anagnostopoulou told Olive Oil Times.

See Also:Chalkidiki Table Olives Hit by Hail Ahead of Harvest

We found that the aver­age tem­per­a­ture in the region has increased by around 1.5 ºC since the 1980s, mostly in the south­west part of the region,” she added. According to the worst-case sce­nario, sum­mer tem­per­a­tures will increase by 2.5 ºC to 3.0 ºC, while a milder increase of 1.5 ºC is expected in win­ter time in the next decades.”

The pro­fes­sor explained that unnat­u­rally warm win­ter weather can severely ham­per the fruit­ing of olive trees.

Olive trees require spe­cial cool­ing con­di­tions dur­ing the win­ter in order to break bud dor­mancy,” she said. In warm years, the absence of proper cold win­ter weather leads to reduced flow­er­ing in the spring and con­se­quently to a reduced yield at har­vest time.”

it is now clear to us that, in the com­ing decades, the olive trees [in Chalkidiki] will not be able to gather the nec­es­sary cold units’ [also known as chill hours] to break bud dor­mancy due to the rise in tem­per­a­ture,” Anagnostopoulou added. So, a reduc­tion in the blos­som­ing of the trees is most likely, which will affect both the quan­tity and the qual­ity of the olive fruits.”


Hand sorting olives in Chalkidiki, Greece

Anagnostopoulou said that rain­falls on the penin­sula have also decreased com­pared to pre­vi­ously, par­tic­u­larly in the region’s ter­ri­to­ries sit­u­ated inland.

Even more, the fore­casted trend of even lower pre­cip­i­ta­tion lev­els in the com­ing years will likely thin out the water reser­voirs of the area, ulti­mately weak­en­ing the region’s irri­ga­tion capac­ity with a detri­men­tal effect on non-irri­gated olive groves.

Non-irri­gated olive groves in Chalkidiki will not be sus­tain­able,” Anagnostopoulou said.

However, she added that using smart irri­ga­tion sys­tems and switch­ing to olive vari­eties that are more resis­tant to warm and dry weather con­di­tions might par­tially solve the prob­lem.

Around 60,000 farm­ers are grow­ing olives on the Chalkidiki penin­sula in north­ern Greece.

See Also:Researchers Study How Lack of Chill Hours Impacts Olive Development, Oil Quality

The char­ac­ter­is­tic green, oval-shaped Chalkidiki olives are mostly reserved as table olives and pri­mar­ily exported to world­wide mar­kets.

Other olive vari­eties most suit­able for oil pro­duc­tion are also grown on the penin­sula, with an aver­age pro­duc­tion of 7,000 tons annu­ally.

Chalkidiki olive farm­ers pre­vi­ously expressed fears of the impact of cli­mate change in the region in a 2019 har­vest sur­vey con­ducted by Olive Oil Times in late 2019.

Their fears became a real­ity in 2021, when win­ter tem­per­a­tures remained higher than usual in the region, affect­ing the pro­duc­tion cycle of the olive trees and pre­vent­ing them from flow­er­ing to full capac­ity.

According to esti­mates, €80 mil­lion of dam­age was done to Chalkidiki table olive pro­duc­ers alone due to the adverse weather. Scientists attrib­uted the unusu­ally high tem­per­a­tures of the 2021/22 crop year to cli­mate change.

This crop year, how­ever, was reward­ing for the region’s olive grow­ers, with an over­all yield of 160,000 tons of Chalkidiki olives, far exceed­ing the ini­tial expec­ta­tions of a more mod­est yield of 100,000 tons.

Nevertheless, the uni­ver­si­ty’s research leaves lit­tle room for local pro­duc­ers to be hope­ful and con­fi­dent about the future.

The rise in tem­per­a­ture, the decrease in rain­fall, as well as the need for water, [which is] par­tic­u­larly impor­tant for olive cul­ti­va­tion, por­tend a bleak future for the olive cul­ti­va­tion in Chalkidiki,” Anagnostopoulou said.

Our study should be con­sid­ered the begin­ning of inform­ing farm­ers and the pub­lic in Chalkidiki about the con­se­quences of cli­mate change and should con­tribute to improv­ing our response on a local and regional level,” she con­cluded.

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