Business

Italy's Cooperatives: Strength in Numbers

Cooperatives of Italian olive growers reached the highest standards thanks to smootly-running incentive systems, while helping small scale proucers enter the market.

Harvest at the Contrada Feudotto
Dec. 13, 2017
By Ylenia Granitto
Harvest at the Contrada Feudotto

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Harvest started in late September and these are the last few days of work in the olive groves of the Contrada Feudotto, the head­quar­ters of the coop­er­a­tive soci­ety La Goccia d’Oro.

“This is a com­mu­nity made up of a thou­sand olive grow­ers mostly from the ter­ri­tory of Menfi and other towns in the province of Agrigento, and partly from the province of Trapani,” said the gen­eral man­ager of the com­pany, Accursio Alagna.

Last year’s results were made pos­si­ble thanks to the work of more than one thou­sand pro­duc­ers who run not only large parcels of land but also very small groves with thirty or fifty olive trees.- Massimiliano Consolo, Agraria Riva del Garda

“Our oper­at­ing system con­sists in assist­ing our mem­bers with tech­ni­cal sup­port, infor­ma­tion and train­ing on the field through­out all stages of pro­duc­tion, so that olive trees are con­stantly mon­i­tored,” he explained.

A few hours after har­vest­ing, olives are taken to the mill where they are sub­jected to a first qual­i­ta­tive selec­tion to eval­u­ate if their phy­tosan­i­tary state meets the com­pany stan­dards.

Then, they are pressed accord­ing to vari­ety, depend­ing on the dif­fer­ent lines which include mono­va­ri­etals; PDOs, PGIs and organic; and a blend made up of Nocellara, Biancolilla and Cerasuola, which are pressed together. A second qual­i­ta­tive selec­tion con­sist­ing in the deter­mi­na­tion of acid­ity is car­ried out on the fresh extra virgin olive oil, which will be bot­tled after a period of nat­ural decanta­tion.

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To ensure high stan­dards of the prod­uct sup­plied by farm­ers, the coop­er­a­tive estab­lished an incen­tive scheme based on two para­me­ters: the qual­ity and the prod­uct cat­e­gory.

“We rank extra virgin olive oils accord­ing to the deter­mi­na­tion of acid­ity: the first-level prod­uct is below 0.2 per­cent and the second-level prod­uct ranges from 0.2 to 0.5 per­cent,” Alagna explained, spec­i­fy­ing that a third class is not even con­sid­ered, even if within reg­u­la­tory limits.

“I have to say that most of the oils gen­er­ally come under the first class, and this season we reached a 0.17 per­cent aver­age acid­ity,” he revealed. “Then, farm­ers receive a fur­ther remu­ner­a­tion which increases with the market class of oil, start­ing from the con­ven­tional blend, up to the organic pro­duc­tion.”

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The strate­gic choice of the com­pany is to add value to the work of mem­bers, Alagna noted. “We think that trans­parency is the most effec­tive way to pro­tect con­sumers and make them aware of prod­ucts. That is why, from this cam­paign, con­sumers will find a collar around the neck of each bottle with the photo and infor­ma­tion of a farmer.”

An olive grove of La Goccia d’Oro

By enter­ing the batch number of a bottle on the coop­er­a­tive’s web­site, a con­sumer can trace the entire pro­duc­tion process. “Since we are a coop­er­a­tive of sev­eral mem­bers, many hectares of land and dif­fer­ent dis­tricts, it is even more impor­tant to offer our con­sumers a clear mon­i­tor­ing and rep­re­sen­ta­tion of all steps of our prod­uct chain,” Alagna said.

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At the other end of the Boot, the largest lake in Italy lies in the foothills of the Italian Alps — a Mediterranean oasis for the olive groves of the Agraria Riva del Garda, a brand often cel­e­brated at the NYIOOC with a couple of Gold Awards in 2014 and 2016 and a Silver Award in 2017.

The Casaliva vari­ety which gives life to this high-qual­ity PDO Garda Trentino is grown by farm­ers oper­at­ing on the north­ern­most coast of Garda Lake.

“The coop­er­a­tive is made up of 360 mem­bers of which almost one hun­dred are base­line sup­pli­ers,” said the busi­ness devel­op­ment man­ager Massimiliano Consolo. “However, the number of con­trib­u­tors may vary widely depend­ing on the season, and last year’s results were made pos­si­ble thanks to the work of more than one thou­sand pro­duc­ers who run not only large parcels of land but also very small groves with thirty or fifty olive trees”

Agraria Riva del Garda

The coop­er­a­tive system can rely on sev­eral tech­ni­cians both inter­nal and exter­nal who, through­out the year, con­stantly follow mem­bers and the con­trib­u­tors who need and requires assis­tance. They pro­vide tech­ni­cal sup­port for normal agro­nomic prac­tices and extra­or­di­nary require­ments due to sea­sonal issues increas­ingly fre­quent over last years.

“Harvest starts on the basis of their eval­u­a­tions of sev­eral hun­dred farm­ers with very dif­fer­ent plots, and we give pri­or­ity to the olive groves which accord­ing to them are in the best con­di­tions,” Consolo pointed out. They also rely also on a sci­en­tific system that con­sid­ers cal­cu­la­tions of the fat mass in the olives rather than verai­son time like most pro­duc­ers do.

Agraria Riva del Garda landscape (Photo: Eugenio Luti)

“Our tech­ni­cians col­lect olives in the fields every week, sorted by vari­ety, expo­sure, type of soil and so on. Therefore, we put the olives in a machine to obtain a pulp which is inserted into another device which cal­cu­lates the fat mass level. Depending on the resul­tant graphs we decide when it’s time to har­vest,” he revealed.

This har­vest started mid-October and the last olives were picked at the end of November. The first pro­duc­ers to be selected for har­vest­ing receive the high­est remu­ner­a­tion and their olives will give rise to ‘Uliva 1111,’ which is a lim­ited edi­tion of the extra virgin olive oil PDO Garda Trentino.

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“According to our incen­tive system based on a three-step qual­i­ta­tive con­trol, farm­ers do their best to follow the com­pany guide­lines in order to get the most out of their olive trees,” Consolo con­sid­ered.

“The first selec­tion takes place at the entrance of fruits in the mill with a visual check, then a sample of the oil obtained is sub­jected to chem­i­cal analy­sis and another sample is judged by the tast­ing panel. At the end of these three checks, the prod­uct gets a score with an asso­ci­ated remu­ner­a­tion. Our eval­u­a­tion is there­fore based solely and exclu­sively on qual­ity,” Consolo con­cluded.