Olive Cultivation Is Expanding in Georgia

Local olive farmers and the International Olive Council are working to expand olive growing using imported and native olive varieties.
Alex Shu on Unsplash
Dec 18, 2021 12:32 PM EST
Paolo DeAndreis

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Olive grow­ing in Georgia has expanded to 1,200 hectares and will con­tinue to grow, local experts told the recent International Olive Council (IOC) meet­ing in Tbilisi.

They added that Georgian olive grow­ers are work­ing with imported vari­eties and eval­u­at­ing local ones as they plot the sector’s future.

In such a rel­e­vant moment for olive grow­ing expan­sion, it has been cru­cial to choose the cor­rect vari­eties. We need them to be capa­ble of over­com­ing cold win­ters and suit­able for the spe­cific farm­ing prac­tices of the region.- Zviad Bobokashvili, fruit crop researcher, Ministry of Agriculture

Georgia aspires to be one of the key play­ers in the South Caucasus olive sec­tor,” said Abdellatif Ghedira, the IOC’s exec­u­tive direc­tor.

According to data from Juan Vilar Strategic Consultants, Georgia pro­duces about 900 tons of olive oil and 500 tons of table olives per annum.

See Also: Global Olive Oil Production Will Reach 4.4M Tons by 2050, Expert Projects

One of the some­what sur­pris­ing dri­vers that may help Georgia speed up its cur­rent strat­egy of olive grove expan­sion is cli­mate change, as more of the coun­try becomes amenable to olive cul­ti­va­tion.

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In sev­eral areas, pro­jec­tions show that the num­ber of warmer days will increase,” Zviad Bobokashvili, head of the depart­ment of fruit crop research at the Ministry of Agriculture, told Olive Oil Times. In con­trast, we expect a reduc­tion in crit­i­cal win­ter tem­per­a­tures, and it could be pos­si­ble that olive pro­duc­tion will expand in even more areas.”

About 95 per­cent of the new groves are likely to be located in Kakheti, a cen­tral-south east­ern region, where aver­age tem­per­a­tures have risen more rapidly in the last 40 years than in the rest of the coun­try.

However, cli­mate change also pro­vides plenty of chal­lenges for Georgian farm­ers and olive grow­ers.

For sure, there are, and there will be neg­a­tive impacts, such as lack of rain­fall dur­ing sum­mer months which could lead to an irri­ga­tion deficit of olive plan­ta­tions, impact­ing qual­ity and yields,” Bobokashvili said.

Other chal­lenges come from an increased risk of hail dam­age to the trees, which is also linked to ris­ing tem­per­a­tures. Higher tem­per­a­tures may also facil­i­tate the spread of dis­ease and pests.

All of this will require more inte­grated plant pro­tec­tion mea­sures,” Bobokashvili said.

Despite its small size – Georgia cov­ers less than 70,000 square kilo­me­ters with forests cov­er­ing 33 per­cent of this total – the coun­try com­prises var­ied farm­lands defined by the moun­tain­ous ter­rain and plenty of water resources. However, not every area that is amenable to olive cul­ti­va­tion will be able to rely on irri­ga­tion.

Some olive trees have been planted in areas where they are expe­ri­enc­ing a lack of irri­ga­tion in the sum­mer,” Bobokashvili said. But the goal of the new projects is to plant olive groves in areas suited to peren­nial crop pro­duc­tion.”

This strat­egy will give farm­ers the option to diver­sify exist­ing crops and to estab­lish pro­duc­tion for a sec­tor which is still in its early stages of devel­op­ment in Georgia,” he added.

Georgian agri­cul­tural experts said effec­tive adap­ta­tion to cli­mate change will require new water wells and irri­ga­tion sys­tems, includ­ing drip irri­ga­tion net­works, to with­stand water short­ages. New mon­i­tor­ing tools will also be needed to pre­dict and ana­lyze the spread of pathogens.

However, Georgian farm­ers will work to mit­i­gate these chal­lenges by using the best farm­ing tech­niques, such as wind­break lines and new mulching tech­nolo­gies to main­tain mois­ture in the soil.

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We can already count on a com­plete and mod­ern­ized pro­duc­tion chain, as our olive pro­cess­ing facil­i­ties are up to date and already pro­duce extra vir­gin olive oil from local groves,” Bobokashvili said.

With IOC sup­port, new expert train­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties will help improve the effi­ciency of har­vest­ing and trans­form­ing olives.

Bobokashvili said that to with­stand the cold Georgian win­ters and boost the expan­sion of olive grow­ing, farm­ers have mostly adopted two olive cul­ti­vars imported from Turkey: Gemlick, which is tra­di­tion­ally used for black table olive pro­duc­tion, and Ayvalik, or Edremit, which is mostly grown in north­ern Turkey.

In such a rel­e­vant moment for olive grow­ing expan­sion, it has been cru­cial to choose the cor­rect vari­eties,” Bobokashvili said. We need them to be capa­ble of over­com­ing cold win­ters and suit­able for the spe­cific farm­ing prac­tices of the region, such as cop­per spray­ing in autumn and reduced nitro­gen fer­til­iza­tion.”

Planting sev­eral Italian cul­ti­vars capa­ble of cop­ing with cold cli­mates, such as Ghiacciola, Frantoio, Correggiolo, Leccino and Ascolana, may also help Georgian farm­ers expand pro­duc­tion.

Additional research is under­way to deter­mine whether Arbequina and Koroneikli – both of which grow in high-den­sity groves – would be suit­able in Georgia.

The future of olive grow­ing in the coun­try will also be built on its his­toric roots, as researchers hope to incor­po­rate at least some of the ancient cul­ti­vars that used to dot the coun­try­side into the cur­rent pro­duc­tion matrix.

According to leg­end, olive trees were first brought to Georgia and neigh­bor­ing Armenia by Noah. However, sci­en­tific evi­dence shows the first evi­dence of olive trees in the region dat­ing back to the 1st or 2nd cen­tury C.E., when olive trees are believed to have been imported from Greece.

Since their intro­duc­tion, olive trees have become part of the cul­ture, with both table olives and olive oil fea­tur­ing promi­nently in local cui­sine and tra­di­tional med­i­cine. However, harsh Georgian win­ters have led to many years in which olive trees were severely dam­aged.

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Despite these obsta­cles, experts believe that cul­ti­vars such as Oturi, Butko, Gorvala and Tbilisuri have been grown by locals spo­rad­i­cally for cen­turies.

At the moment, these ancient cul­ti­vars are yet to be exam­ined but pre­lim­i­nary explo­rations in west Georgia have found very old olive trees that will need to be iden­ti­fied,” Bobokashvili said. The goal is to exam­ine them and prop­a­gate these trees.”

The sci­en­tists are also work­ing to intro­duce new vari­eties and inves­ti­gate the fea­si­bil­ity of new high-den­sity groves,” he added.

Updated December 29, 2021



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