Spain’s olive oil industry was hit hard the last week of 2010 as freezing temperatures destroyed over 3.5 million pounds (1.5 million kilos) of olives in the Condado de Cocentaina, also known as El Comtat, one of the country’s principle growing regions.
Annual olive production was already significantly lower than expected due to crop damage during a particularly snowy winter the previous year. Snow-damaged trunks and branches resulted in the loss of more than 6.6 million pounds (3 million kilos) of olives in 2010.
The icy temperatures, some measured as low as 19.4 degrees F, only served to make matters worse for olive farmers in the region. The worst affected areas were those in the River Seta Valley, such as the villages of Gorga, Balones and Quatretondeta. Olive farms surrounding El Benicadell, the tallest peak in the region, also suffered significant losses.
Those municipalities affected by the extreme weather have yet to receive monetary aid from the Ministry of Agriculture or other government agencies, despite efforts. However the private research organization Proaguas subsidized by the Provincial Council has published a detailed report covering the losses.
Of the affected olive varieties, the Late Blanquette was hit the hardest, followed by the Manzanella variety.
Although the damaged olives were not rendered entirely useless, the lower quality oil obtained from them can only be used in refined oils. International prices for these inferior oils are paltry compared to prices of the high-quality extra virgin oils growers were seeking.
According to the Asociación Española de Municipios del Olivo (AEMO) olives exposed to sub-zero temperatures for several hours suffer damages to their internal tissues, resulting in oils of lesser quality in the future. Oil obtained from these “frozen olives” produces a characteristic dry aftertaste and can’t be sold as extra virgin.
Olives weren’t the only crop damaged by severe weather last year. Spain’s orange, lettuce, artichoke and zucchini industries also fell victim to record-breaking cold spells.