Organic Farming, High Quality Often Hand In Hand

Farms like Antica Quercia Verde, among the best organic brands of the year, are contributing to Italy's leadership in the sector.

Josiane Ferlan harvesting at Antica Quercia Verde
Mar. 26, 2018
By Ylenia Granitto
Josiane Ferlan harvesting at Antica Quercia Verde

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Antica Quercia Verde obtained two Gold Awards in a row at the NYIOOC with an organic extra vir­gin olive oil made on the hills of Tuscany. The orchard’s soil has always been chem­i­cal-free,” said Josiane Ferlan, who runs the farm with her hus­band, Pietro Zecchini and their sons Joshua and Jeremy. We man­age 500 sec­u­lar plants of Frantoio, Moraiolo and Leccino and a small group of rare and unclas­si­fied vari­eties,” she said about their grove spread over 3.5 hectares (8.6 acres) of ter­races fac­ing south, toward the beau­ti­ful town of Cortona.

The olive trees were most likely planted when the ter­races that host them were built, so we are talk­ing about some cen­turies,” Zecchini con­sid­ered, adding that the posi­tion is not the most com­fort­able due to the steep ter­rain and a flour­ish­ing veg­e­ta­tion that must be con­stantly keep under con­trol. We must often use trim­mers and brush cut­ters, and some­times, among the wild herbs, we plant legu­mi­nous green manure crops such as vetch,” he explained.

Pietro Zecchini and his son Jeremy

The dif­fi­cult man­age­ment of plants is mit­i­gated by a very spe­cial atmos­phere. The olive grove is right under the her­mitage of Le Celle, a con­vent founded in 1211 by Saint Francis of Assisi, who built the first cells of the struc­ture with his fol­low­ers.

Since the old road to the con­vent passed through our farm, Saint Francis cer­tainly used to walk among these olive trees,” the pro­ducer revealed. I can say that the whole val­ley is mag­i­cal as regards to the pro­duc­tion of extra vir­gin olive oil,” Zecchini noted. When I was a child and went to visit wine cel­lars in Montepulciano, the wine­mak­ers used to say: We here make a good wine, you guys over there make a good oil.’ This means that this has always been rec­og­nized as great prod­uct, prob­a­bly thanks to the soil and cli­mate con­di­tions which really seem to be blessed.”

However, last sea­son was par­tic­u­larly chal­leng­ing. We start har­vest­ing oper­a­tions in early October after a very quick ripen­ing,” said Ferlan. She explained that in September fruits weren’t absolutely ready to be picked. First con­cerns were caused by cold weather in mid-April and early May, then a hot and dry sum­mer halted the veg­e­ta­tive growth. But in early fall fruits devel­oped rapidly. At the end, tests of the prod­uct showed that the polyphe­nols were much more than those of last year and the acid­ity was min­i­mal,” she revealed. Sensory analy­sis con­firmed that our extra vir­gin olive oil is excel­lent.”

Josiane Ferlan harvesting at Antica Quercia Verde

This year they decided to delay and reduce prun­ing, and this well-timed action fur­ther pro­tected plants from the effects of the recent cold wave in Italy. In early April, they will go back to olive grove to carry out the appro­pri­ate cut oper­a­tions.

Organic extra vir­gin olive oil is appre­ci­ated by Italian con­sumers. While in coun­tries like Spain the term organic’ on the label does not seem to cre­ate added value, in the Boot the demand of con­sumers for prod­ucts made with­out the use of syn­thetic fer­til­iz­ers is increas­ing.

In the 1970s and 1980s the organic approach has mostly devel­oped in north­ern European coun­tries,” said Angelo Bo, a Tuscany-based agron­o­mist spe­cial­ized in organic olive grow­ing. Therefore, Italy started to export its chem­i­cal-free prod­ucts launch­ing a trend which has grown over the years, also at the national level.”

In organic farm­ing, syn­thetic fer­til­iz­ers and pes­ti­cides are not allowed and we can use only sub­stances of nat­ural, non-syn­thetic ori­gin, which must in any case be man­aged wisely, Bo explained. According to this approach, we need to work on the agro­nomic man­age­ment of olive trees with a view to pre­serve the right bal­ance and nutri­tion,” he sug­gested. The health­ier the plants will be, the less prob­lems arise, and we will be han­dling with the low­est num­ber of pathogens.”

We have to say that this method is pos­si­ble and give excel­lent results in cer­tain ter­ri­to­r­ial and cli­matic con­di­tions, and with appro­pri­ate olive vari­eties,” Bo spec­i­fied. In this sense, the autochtho­nous cul­ti­vars turned out to be use­ful. Protection of bio­di­ver­sity is not only among the pur­poses of this type of farm­ing but also the first step to take for a suc­cess­ful chem­i­cal-free approach.”

Organic olive grow­ers use this method not only for its pos­i­tive envi­ron­men­tal impact, but also for the high lev­els of qual­ity that it is pos­si­ble to achieve, as proven by some of this year’s best extra vir­gin olive oil, like Antica Quercia Verde, Domenica Fiore, and many oth­ers.

The growth in pro­duc­tion and con­sump­tion of organic food in Italy was evi­denced in a report recently launched by the SINAB (National Information System on Organic Agriculture), based on a project of the MiPAAF (Ministry of Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies) car­ried out by the ISMEA (Institute of Services for the Agricultural and Food Market) and the CIHEAM (International Center for Advanced Mediterranean Agronomic Studies).

According to the doc­u­ment, the areas cul­ti­vated under organic meth­ods in Italy have reached 1,796,363 hectares (4,438,909 acres) in 2017, which means an increase of 20.4 per­cent com­pared with the pre­vi­ous year.

Olive groves cover 12.6 per­cent of the sur­face cul­ti­vated under organic farm­ing, with 222,452 ha (549,690 acres), of which 72,053 ha (178,046 acres) are in con­ver­sion. The olive tree is there­fore among the prin­ci­pal types of farm­ing prac­ticed, with an increase of 23.5 per­cent, and a growth rate sim­i­lar to vines (23.4 per­cent), after fod­der crops (342,653 ha — 846,714 acres), pas­ture­lands (321,011 ha — 793,235 acres), and cere­als (299,639 ha — 740,424 acres).

The sec­tor is at the cen­ter of the coun­try’s devel­op­ment poli­cies and is closely man­aged by the European and Italian insti­tu­tions through a sys­tem of rules which are con­tin­u­ally ver­i­fied and updated. Thanks to these guar­an­tees, con­sumers are con­fi­dent in organic foods.

According to Coldiretti, based on data relat­ing to the large-scale dis­trib­u­tors in Italy, retail sales of organic food in 2017 increased by 16 per­cent. The unin­ter­rupted growth in demand over the last decade stim­u­lated the pro­duc­tion in the coun­try, which is cur­rently the European leader for the num­ber of organic com­pa­nies.

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