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Organic Olive Groves Flourish in Spain

In 2018, the surface area of organic olive groves increased by three percent in Spain. A country-wide push toward sustainability and better profit margins on organic oils are among the contributing factors.

Nov. 5, 2019
By Daniel Dawson

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The number of acres of organic olive groves in Spain increased by three per­cent in 2018, accord­ing to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

Overall, organic agri­cul­ture sur­face area has increased by 7.9 per­cent, making Spain the largest organic farm­ing nation in Europe and the fourth-largest in the world.

The pro­duc­tiv­ity of the organic olive grove today is very sim­i­lar to the tra­di­tional one, in terms of fruit, which in some cases makes it more prof­itable via the value of the prod­uct, gen­er­ally 10 to 15-per­cent more.- Juan Vilar, olive oil con­sul­tant and pro­fes­sor at the University of Jaén

The increase in organic – or eco­log­i­cal, as it is also known in Spain – olive groves comes as the world’s cul­ti­vated olive tree sur­face area shrank for the first time in more than two decades. Spain expe­ri­enced one of the largest decreases.

According to data col­lected from the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FIBL) and the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) that was ana­lyzed by Juan Vilar Strategic Consultants, Spain now has almost 495,000 acres of organic olive groves; nearly one-quar­ter of the world’s total.

See more: Sustainability News

In 2018, Spain pro­duced 33,400 tons of olive oil from these organic groves. Only Tunisia, with 637,500 acres of organic groves and Italy, with 585,600 acres, pro­duced more.

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“The eco­log­i­cal olive grove is char­ac­ter­ized by the use of nat­ural prod­ucts and not of syn­thetic ones [often used to increase pro­duc­tiv­ity],” Vilar, an olive oil expert and pro­fes­sor at the University of Jaén, told Olive Oil Times.

He attrib­uted part of this increase in organic olive groves to the lack of com­pet­i­tive­ness in tra­di­tional ones.

“The pro­duc­tiv­ity of the organic olive grove today is very sim­i­lar to the tra­di­tional one, in terms of fruit, which in some cases makes it more prof­itable via the value of the prod­uct, gen­er­ally 10 to 15-per­cent more,” he said.

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Persistently low olive oil prices in Spain over the past har­vest season have led to many pro­duc­ers seek­ing ways in which to create added value to their prod­ucts. Certified organic and other types of “green” labels have been one way in which pro­duc­ers are able to do this.

Traditional olive groves are not the only ones that are increas­ingly switch­ing to organic prac­tices. Some super-inten­sive groves are also adopt­ing these sus­tain­able meth­ods of cul­ti­va­tion.

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“It is a system that is not exclu­sive to tra­di­tional olive groves, there are already more than 25,000 hectares (61,800 acres) of modern eco­log­i­cal olive groves on the planet,” Vilar said. “[These also] boost income via com­pet­i­tive­ness and through the dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion of the prod­ucts.”

Overall, Vilar sees more olive groves – whether they are organic or not – as a good thing.

“The olive grove and the envi­ron­ment where it devel­ops forms an ecosys­tem, where numer­ous species coex­ist at all trophic levels,” he wrote in a recent blog post on the sub­ject. “Olive plan­ta­tions can house up to 200 species of wild flora plants per hectare, 90 ver­te­brate species and 160 species of inver­te­brates asso­ci­ated with olive cul­ti­va­tion.”

Along with pro­mot­ing bio­di­ver­sity, Vilar added that the rise in organic olive groves also helps pre­vent the spread and pro­mote the early detec­tion of Xylella fas­tidiosa.

“With respect to the Xylella, being the most care­fully mon­i­tored olive trees, [eco­log­i­cal olive groves] pre­vent the vec­tors from prop­a­gat­ing in a some­what simple way,” he said.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food said that the annual aver­age growth of Spain’s total organic cul­ti­va­tion sur­face area is grow­ing at a rate of about seven per­cent each year.

Overall, the growth rate of organic olive groves is out­pac­ing that of tra­di­tional and super-inten­sive groves. As long as prices for organic oils are main­tained and gov­ern­ment aid con­tin­ues for organic grow­ers, Vilar thinks the trend is likely to stay.

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“The eco­log­i­cal olive grove grows every year at an aver­age rate of 1.6 per­cent, while the world olive grove, this year has decreased, and the pre­vi­ous years made it to 0.7 per­cent annu­ally,” he said.