Europe

Revolution in Extremadura’s Olive Sector Increases Its Economic Importance

Extremadura’s sector is undergoing an important transformation with the expansion of intensive olive crops.

Intensive olive tree farming, Badajoz, Spain
Dec. 11, 2018
By Rosa Gonzalez-Lamas
Intensive olive tree farming, Badajoz, Spain

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National and global dis­tinc­tions to the qual­ity of its olive oils, changes in their pack­ag­ing and image, new approaches to olive cul­ti­va­tion and pro­cess­ing, and a greater prod­uct pres­ence in inter­na­tional mar­kets are some ingre­di­ents of the trans­for­ma­tion of Extremadura’s olive sec­tor, a change that is help­ing olive oil become a more rel­e­vant prod­uct in the econ­omy of this Span­ish com­mu­nity.

The meta­mor­pho­sis derives from a con­tin­ued growth result­ing from inten­sive olive grove farm­ing. This has helped expand the cul­ti­vated sur­face to the point olives are now Extremadura’s largest crop.

Inten­sive and super inten­sive olive cul­ti­va­tion offers advan­tages that have con­tributed to its pro­lif­er­a­tion in Extremadura in the last few years. Inten­sive and super inten­sive meth­ods facil­i­tate mech­a­niza­tion, eas­ing man­age­ment and sav­ing costs. Their irri­ga­tion grants sta­bil­ity to the crops. The reduced har­vest­ing costs lead to a more prof­itable effort amid a grow­ing global demand and reduced pro­duc­tion in some other olive grow­ing areas.

Extremadura’s olive sector’s rev­o­lu­tion is led by Bada­joz, Spain’s top olive oil pro­ducer out­side Andalu­sia. Bada­joz rep­re­sents 88.6 per­cent of Extremadura’s olive pro­duc­tion, 3.5 per­cent of Spain’s pro­duc­tion and 1.7 per­cent of the world’s pro­duc­tion.

Between 2006 and 2017 Badajoz’s olive grove sur­face grew by almost 25 per­cent. Although tra­di­tional groves still rep­re­sent around 80 per­cent of the region’s total sur­face, inten­sive, irri­gated groves are grow­ing at a faster pace of 67.5 per­cent ver­sus 9 per­cent of tra­di­tional plan­ta­tions.

Bada­joz and Cáceres are the main olive oil-pro­duc­ing provinces in Extremadura, which in the 2017/18 cam­paign har­vested a total of 73,000 tons of olives, a fig­ure that is expected to reach 100,000 soon. This increase has had an impact on olive mills, which are adapt­ing their facil­i­ties to han­dle a larger pro­duc­tion with greater qual­ity and also mak­ing a bet on olive tourism. Pri­vate label olive oil brands also grew sig­nif­i­cantly in the region.

Extremadura has sev­eral autho­rized olive vari­eties for olive oil and table olives includ­ing Man­zanilla de Sevilla, Cor­ni­cabra, Picual, Morisca, Cornezuelo and Ver­dial de Bada­joz.

Man­zanilla Cac­ereña is the region’s olive star and was respon­si­ble for help­ing pro­mote Extremadu­ran brands inter­na­tion­ally. Some projects are revi­tal­iz­ing rare vari­eties like Azulejo or Pico Limón, grown on cen­te­nary trees.

Gata-Hur­des and Aceite Mon­ter­ru­bio are the community’s two DOPs for olive oil and are pro­moted by Ali­men­tos de Extremadura, the community’s pro­mo­tional body for its geo­graphic des­ig­na­tions. Both pro­duce out­stand­ing oils with fruity aro­mas.

Gata-Hur­des pro­tects EVOO obtained exclu­sively from olives of the Man­zanilla Cac­ereña vari­ety har­vested by hand.

Monterrubio’s olive groves are younger but pro­duce a very high-qual­ity olive oil from Cornezuelo, Picual or Jabata vari­eties. Only EVOOs with an acid­ity of less than 1 per­cent are cer­ti­fied.

Qual­ity improve­ment of olive oils has been a key com­ple­ment to inten­sive cul­ti­va­tion meth­ods in the trans­for­ma­tion of Extremadura’s olive oil sec­tor. One major dif­fer­ence has been that olives are now har­vested ear­lier with the objec­tive of obtain­ing more fruity and aro­matic oils with longer shelf lives, even if this might sig­nif­i­cantly lower yields.

This qual­ity has been rec­og­nized locally, where more oils are qual­i­fied as extra vir­gin, and inter­na­tion­ally at com­pe­ti­tions includ­ing the NYIOOC World Olive Oil Com­pe­ti­tion. Some com­pa­nies are already export­ing oils to inter­na­tional mar­kets as Italy or the United States.

Inno­va­tion is also at the industry’s fore­front. An exam­ple is Ecol­i­bor, a com­pany in Cáceres that pro­duced an olive oil with unusu­ally high phe­no­lic lev­els, which is attrib­uted mainly to Extremadura’s ter­roir.

It is expected that approx­i­mately 20,000 new olive grove hectares will be planted in the next few years and it appears inten­sive and super inten­sive plant­i­ngs will lead the future path of the olive oil sec­tor in Extremadura, offer­ing com­pet­i­tive price options for more pro­fes­sional crops, while rep­re­sent­ing another chal­lenge to tra­di­tional olive groves with higher pro­duc­tion costs.



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