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High Quality, Lower Yields Predicted as Harvest Gets Underway in Italy

We asked farmers how the harvest looks so far and what it holds for the current season. Chances are the quantity will be far below average but slightly better than last season, yet the quality will be high.

Olive tree at Tenuta Pojana
Sep. 30, 2017
By Ylenia Granitto
Olive tree at Tenuta Pojana

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Fall had not even begun and some Ital­ian farm­ers already started to pick olives, as cli­mate issues led them to mod­ify their har­vest­ing oper­a­tions. Grad­u­ally from now until Novem­ber, when it comes to the pro­duc­tion of high-qual­ity olive oil, mills will be fully oper­a­tional all over the Boot.

High tem­per­a­tures, on one hand, led to a dif­fi­cult man­age­ment of already scarce water resources, but on the other pre­vented the onset of var­i­ous dis­eases.- Francesco Travaglini

Last har­vest sea­son in Italy, accord­ing to esti­mates by the Insti­tute of Ser­vices for the Agri­cul­tural and Food Mar­ket (ISMEA) based on data gath­ered by the Ital­ian Agri­cul­tural Pay­ments Agency AGEA, amounted to 182,000 tons — a 62-per­cent drop com­pared with the pre­vi­ous year and the poor­est cam­paign of the last few decades.

Nev­er­the­less, qual­ity was often very high thanks to the efforts of pro­duc­ers who pur­sued excel­lence.

Experts have slightly higher expec­ta­tions for the 2017 – 2018 sea­son, which still suf­fered from the effects of a very cold win­ter fol­lowed by spring frosts and sum­mer drought.

It is too early to pro­vide reli­able data, but we can say with cer­tainty that Ital­ian vol­umes will be far below the aver­age,” said Maria Gabriella Ciofetta, an expe­ri­enced taster work­ing with the Mediter­ranean Union of Oil Tasters, UMAO. Since some regions like Lazio, Tus­cany and Cam­pa­nia suf­fered adverse weather con­di­tions, we may assume a sig­nif­i­cant decrease.”

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An esti­mated drop in pro­duc­tion between 40 and 50 per­cent below the aver­age will be off­set how­ever by an increase of a few per­cent­age points com­pared with last sea­son, thanks to an upswing in pro­duc­tion in regions such as Sicily, Abruzzo and Lig­uria.

Con­sid­er­ing that high tem­per­a­tures pre­vented the onset of the olive fruit fly and other dis­eases, and many farm­ers imple­mented irri­ga­tion sys­tems dur­ing peri­ods of drought, qual­ity can reach very high lev­els.

Many are wor­ried since olives suf­fered from the heat wave at the expense of pulp and this can lead to hay-wood defect in the final prod­uct,” Ciofetta observed. In my opin­ion, it is too early to tell because extreme tem­per­a­tures in sev­eral areas have post­poned the process of oil pro­duc­tion in the fruits, lim­it­ing the occur­rence of some defects. There­fore, we can expect to taste excel­lent prod­ucts.”

Fran­toi Cutr­era, in south-east­ern Sicily, was among the first to start har­vest. We car­ried out a milling test and from Sep­tem­ber 20 we began to work at full throt­tle,” Sebas­tiano Salafia told Olive Oil Times. We thought we should antic­i­pate oper­a­tions, but some rains dur­ing the first week­end of Sep­tem­ber allowed us to start in our own time,” he added, point­ing out that now their olives look great.

The Cutrera family getting ready to harvest

We irri­gated our groves and this cer­tainly will help to improve qual­ity, even if yields will be lower, partly because the last rains increased the per­cent­age of water in fruits, and partly because pulp suf­fered a bit from high tem­per­a­tures. How­ever, under these cir­cum­stances, we can reach a very high qual­ity,” Salafia said, adding that their flag­ship extra vir­gin olive oil Primo, which won a Sil­ver Award at 2017 NYIOOC, con­sisted entirely of Tonda Iblea — the first vari­ety they har­vested this sea­son.

Thanks to an early ripen­ing due to the far­m’s prox­im­ity to the sea, Bian­co­l­illa and Moresca will be soon deliv­ered to Cutr­era’s mills, fol­lowed by the fruits of Cera­suola, Nocel­lara del Belice and Nocel­lara del­l’Etna.

Due to a very dry win­ter, as early as March we irri­gated our olive trees,” said Maria­grazia Bertaroli of Tenuta La Pojana, who man­ages 1,500 plants in the rolling hills of Soave and Illasi, east of Verona. Spring was alter­na­tively dry and rainy, so we con­tin­ued to moisten the ground to beat the sum­mer heat there­after,” she told us, explain­ing that they could count on drip irri­ga­tion sup­plies for a large part of their orchards.

Tenuta Pojana

We man­u­ally irri­gated the rest of the plants three times a week at night, accord­ing to a well-planned and ratio­nal man­age­ment of water,” Bertaroli said, observ­ing that after a rich set­ting, fruits con­tin­ued to develop in a healthy way and the final amount will prob­a­bly be the same as last year.

Native vari­eties such as Grig­nano, Favarol and Trepp organ­i­cally grown with Mau­rino, Lec­cio del Corno, Lec­cino, Pen­dolino and Fran­toio will be har­vested in Octo­ber to com­pose high-qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oils with the inspi­ra­tional names of Armo­nia (har­mony), Un’arte (an art), Un’­opera (an art­work), Un’idea (an idea).

The Lion of Carpineto is a 700-year-old olive tree which alone gives about 30 liters of a rare mono­va­ri­etal — or rather a sin­gle-tree vari­etal — of Saligna di Lar­ino, and watches over the younger plants of Gen­tile di Lar­ino, Fran­toio, Moraiolo and Lec­cino at Parco dei Buoi, in Molise. The area’s micro­cli­mate saved our plants from tem­per­a­tures often over 30°C (86°F) even at night,” said Francesco Travaglini, reveal­ing that cover crops played an impor­tant role in keep­ing soil and roots fresh.

Parco dei Buoi

High tem­per­a­tures, on one hand, led to a dif­fi­cult man­age­ment of already scarce water resources, but on the other pre­vented the onset of var­i­ous dis­eases,” he observed. In late July, storms gave relief from the heat, but a severe hail­storm knocked about 30 per­cent of olives to the ground. Dents on fruits due to hail­stones healed fast thanks to the heat and to a cop­per-based treat­ment we car­ried out,” the pro­ducer explained. Despite the quan­ti­ta­tive decline, the olives look great and I think we can reach high lev­els again.”


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