Business

French Olive Sector Calls 2016 Harvest 'Catastrophic'

At its general assembly, the president of the French olive grower's association called on members to implement changes or watch the country's olive sector die a slow death.

Jun. 22, 2017
By Isabel Putinja

Recent News

“Catastrophique” is how the French olive grow­ers’ asso­ci­a­tion is describ­ing the most recent olive season.

According to a report by AFIDOL (Association Française Interprofessionnelle de l’Olive), pre­sented at their gen­eral assem­bly on June 16, the most recent olive crop is expected to reach 3,200 to 3,400 tons, com­pared to 5,600 last year. This year’s yield amounts to the same quan­tity har­vested in 2000.

Why hasn’t any French tech­ni­cian been able to pro­pose changes with regard to prun­ing, irri­ga­tion, and fer­til­iza­tion?- Olivier Nasles, Afidol

The report also revealed that between 2005 and 2010, yields came to 5,200 tons on aver­age, while from 2011 to 2016 there was a decrease of 20 per­cent to 4,000 tons. Furthermore, of an esti­mated area of 20,000 hectares of olive groves in France, an aver­age of 200 liters of oil is pro­duced per hectare — far behind the 800 to 1,000 liters pro­duced per hectare in Spain or Morocco.
See more: This Year’s Best French Olive Oils
Climate change, olive fly infes­ta­tions, aging pro­duc­ers, and inef­fi­cient pro­duc­tion meth­ods are to blame for the decline. According to AFIDOL’s pres­i­dent, Olivier Nasles, pro­duc­tion meth­ods need to be re-exam­ined.

In his intro­duc­tion to the report, he asserted that things have changed and French olive grow­ers need to up their game: “The world is chang­ing, people are chang­ing, the cli­mate is chang­ing, and we’re not pre­pared.”

“It’s not just a case of plant­ing in order to pro­duce,” Nasles said, “you have to know how to pro­duce, and this savoir-faire has been par­tially lost. In 2014, pro­duc­tion went down because olive grow­ers did not follow our tech­ni­cian’s rec­om­men­da­tions with regard to treat­ment (against the olive fly). In 2016 (a year of drought), they failed to follow irri­ga­tion rec­om­men­da­tions.”

Advertisement

In order to move for­ward and face chal­lenges due to cli­mate change, he tried to drive the mes­sage home to mem­bers that it was time to change: “We have to move away from the atti­tude of ‘we’ve always done things this way,’ ” he empha­sized.

“How can it be that for the past three years there isn’t one French tech­ni­cian who was able to tell us clearly why some pro­duc­ers are able to pro­duce 700 to 1,000 liters per year while the major­ity scrapes by with only 200 liters? Why hasn’t any French tech­ni­cian been able to pro­pose changes with regard to prun­ing, irri­ga­tion, and fer­til­iza­tion?”

In an inter­view with France Bleu, he evoked other rea­sons for a decline in pro­duc­tion and warned of France’s decline in com­pet­i­tive­ness com­pared to its olive-grow­ing neigh­bors: “We’re losing our savoir-faire because the younger gen­er­a­tion does not want to work like their par­ents and grand­par­ents did… We have to improve pro­duc­tiv­ity oth­er­wise Provence’s olive indus­try will dis­ap­pear… We are losing our com­pet­i­tive­ness com­pared to coun­tries where the olive indus­try is thriv­ing, like Spain, Portugal, Tunisia, Morocco.”

Advertisement
‘Ambassadors’ make you think that it is easy to make olive oil. Well, no, it’s not simple.- Fabienne Roux

French olive oil expert and NYIOOC panel leader, Fabienne Roux echoed Nasles’ points. “Producers who must evolve in their pro­duc­tion tech­niques to achieve pro­duc­tiv­ity, which is the first indis­pens­able link in the eco­nomic prof­itabil­ity of the sector,” Roux told Olive Oil Times. “An ama­teurism is very present in Provence…everyone impro­vises pro­duc­tion and milling. ‘Ambassadors’ make you think that it is easy to make olive oil.”

“Well, no, it’s not simple,” Roux said. “It is nec­es­sary to resume every­thing at the base and train a new gen­er­a­tion olive grow­ers, respon­si­ble and ambi­tious and pro­fes­sional. It must be done seri­ously and urgently. Nothing can be done with­out the common will of the insti­tu­tions, the public author­i­ties and the pri­vate asso­ci­a­tions that work on a day-to-day basis.”

Advertisement

Indeed, French olive pro­duc­ers’ frus­tra­tion is exac­er­bated by the fact that other coun­tries have been able to increase pro­duc­tion in recent years. Compared to other olive-pro­duc­ing coun­tries, France has a tiny olive indus­try, with 65 per­cent of olive pro­duc­tion con­cen­trated in the region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur.

Last year, south­ern France expe­ri­ence a period of drought and part of the expected crop was lost as a result.

Equally “cat­a­strophique” are French olive oil prices which are expected to rise for house­holds to as much as €25 per liter.