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Italian Olive Oil Production Falls to Record Lows

The Institute of Services for the Agricultural and Food Market said 185,000 tons produced. A raft of climatic and phytosanitary problems are to blame.

Feb. 1, 2019
By Ylenia Granitto

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The Insti­tute of Ser­vices for the Agri­cul­tural and Food Mar­ket (ISMEA) has released data indi­cat­ing that the vol­umes pro­duced dur­ing the cur­rent olive oil crop sea­son in Italy have reached record lows, amount­ing to 185,000 tons (slightly above the 182,000 tons of 2016).

If you want to pro­duce a good extra vir­gin olive oil, you have to pay more and more atten­tion and to imple­ment a close super­vi­sion of the olive grove. In short, you have to be ready to respond to today’s chal­lenges.- Gian­carlo Papa­roni, olive oil pro­ducer at Agri­con­tura in Sicily

The sig­ni­fica­tive drop – nearly 57 per­cent com­pared to the pre­vi­ous year – is mainly due to a notable decline that occurred in the south­ern part of the coun­try. There, farm­ers suf­fered the most from adverse weather events and phy­tosan­i­tary prob­lems, both of which also pose a threat to grow­ers all over the penin­sula.

Puglia, which nor­mally accounts for half of national pro­duc­tion, saw its pro­duc­tion decline by 65 per­cent. In this area, as well as in other south­ern regions, such as Sicily, Cal­abria and Cam­pa­nia as well as in Lazio, Marche, Umbria, and Sar­dinia fur­ther north, a fall in the pro­duc­tion was fore­see­able before the start of har­vest­ing oper­a­tions.

See more: Olive Oil Pro­duc­tion

On the other hand, areas of some north­ern regions, includ­ing Lig­uria, Lom­bardy, Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giu­lia, have ben­e­fited from bet­ter con­di­tions, which restored good and often higher than aver­age pro­duc­tion lev­els.

The nat­ural ten­dency of alter­nate bear­ing would at any rate have led to an over­all slight decrease, but win­ter frosts fol­lowed by a patch­work of cli­mate issues dur­ing the warmer months, includ­ing heavy rain and strong wind, con­sid­er­ably exac­er­bated the sit­u­a­tion.

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On this point, it is get­ting harder to deny a con­nec­tion between pro­duc­tion dif­fi­cul­ties and cli­mate change, which is now under­way and becom­ing the olive grow­ers’ over­rid­ing chal­lenge. The expe­ri­ence of the last decade sug­gests that com­plex sea­sons are increas­ingly more fre­quent in basi­cally all pro­duc­ing coun­tries.

ISMEA notes that over the last six years, in Italy, vol­umes pro­duced dur­ing the off-years’ have always proved to be lower than the aver­age phys­i­o­log­i­cal level.

We must make clear that a series of dif­fi­cult har­vests marked by low amounts did not com­pro­mise the qual­ity of the Ital­ian extra vir­gin olive oil,” Maria Gabriella Ciofetta, an expe­ri­enced pro­fes­sional taster, said.

Over the last years, farm­ers have started to address the cli­matic chal­lenges and related phy­tosan­i­tary prob­lems with great com­mit­ment,” she added. Today’s pro­duc­ers’ stan­dards are very high thanks to a good start­ing point made of a greater than ever knowl­edge, com­bined with the abil­ity to inno­vate, and the desire to pro­mote their ter­ri­to­ries through a respect­ful and sus­tain­able approach.”

These remarks have been broadly con­firmed by the suc­cess­ful per­for­mances, with respect to the qual­ity, of the Ital­ian pro­duc­ers, over the years.

Our qual­i­ta­tive stan­dard is always high,” Gio­vanni Sputore, of La Selvotta, said. Last year, he earned two awards at the NYIOOC World Olive Oil Com­pe­ti­tion.

We did a good job again this sea­son, despite hav­ing seen a dip in pro­duc­tion by 20 per­cent. This does not reflect the gen­eral sit­u­a­tion of our area, as the over­all drop exceeded half of the aver­age vol­umes,” the Abruzzo-based pro­ducer said, adding that only farm­ers who paid close atten­tion to the sea­sonal devel­op­ment of the olive trees, and there­fore to any pest attacks, were able to obtain a good prod­uct.

In addi­tion to olive fruit fly out­breaks, we first suf­fered very rainy weather, which became very dry in late Sep­tem­ber and early Octo­ber, and this was fol­lowed by strong winds that made the fruits fall,” he added. The only way to make a good prod­uct is to imple­ment close super­vi­sion of the olive grove and to be pre­pared to act. Those who did it obtained great results.”

The unpre­dictabil­ity of these com­plex sea­sons is shown by the expe­ri­ence of Pietro Zec­chini, at Antica Quer­cia Verde.

In our area, in Cor­tona, we have had one of the best pro­duc­tions in recent years, prob­a­bly the best one since we have run the com­pany,” he said. Since we are organic farm­ers, there are years the pres­ence of the fly can be prob­lem­atic, but dur­ing the last one there was no sign of this pest, as we mon­i­tored it all sum­mer.”

How­ever, I think that grow­ers who delayed the har­vest may have been trou­bled with it. Also, in this part of Tus­cany sev­eral orchards suf­fered from drought,” Zec­chini added. For­tu­nately, we got the right amount of rain which led the olives to per­fect ripeness in time for the har­vest. In terms of quan­tity, last year was cat­a­strophic, as we pro­duced only 10 per­cent of our aver­age amount, but this year we have been com­pen­sated, achiev­ing 50 per­cent more than the aver­age. We are sat­is­fied. Basi­cally, the cli­mate was favor­able, and an early har­vest allowed us to be loyal to our high stan­dards.”

Other pro­duc­ers con­firmed that when it comes to the agro­nomic man­age­ment, no one can say it has been an easy sea­son.

In Sicily, at Agri­con­tura, Gian­carlo Papa­roni had to work hard to make the best use of his San­ta­gatese, Min­uta, and Verdello plants.

The lat­ter two are late-ripen­ing vari­eties, and nor­mally the olive fruit fly does not rep­re­sent a threat to them, but this year we have lost more than half of the pro­duc­tion because of it,” he said. This pest usu­ally causes min­i­mal dam­age to our olive groves, but this time it arrived in Sep­tem­ber, sud­denly, as an unwanted sur­prise.”

Some of our olive trees are located close to the sea, and the oth­ers are at about 200 meters (656 feet) above sea level, where I man­aged to save more fruits thanks to a more favor­able posi­tion. And despite this prob­lem, I obtained a very good prod­uct,” Papa­roni added.

The pro­ducer from Mirto, in the province of Messina, explained that in his organic olive groves, he uses kaolin and pheromone plas­tic-free traps against the fly.

If you want to pro­duce a good extra vir­gin olive oil, you have to pay more and more atten­tion and to imple­ment a close super­vi­sion of the olive grove. In short, you have to be ready to respond to today’s chal­lenges,” the Sicil­ian pro­ducer con­cluded.





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