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

Recent News

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 Also: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.


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.


Related Articles

Feedback / Suggestions