An Olive Harvest in Peru Amid Sweeping Changes

Peruvian producers expect a 50-percent-lower yield this year while the COVID-19 pandemic increases consumption and changes in the sector abound.
José Andrés Maruatech
Jun. 16, 2020
Daniel Dawson

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The 2020 olive har­vest is well under­way in Peru amid a shift­ing land­scape for pro­duc­ers and retailers.

While there is still about a month left until the har­vest is com­pleted, Peruvian pro­duc­ers will yield an esti­mated 3,000 tons from the coun­try’s five main grow­ing regions, a decrease of 50 per­cent com­pared with last year’s harvest.

Progress is needed in mak­ing olive cul­ti­va­tion prof­itable, think­ing of the best options to mod­ern­ize its man­age­ment.- Gianfranco Vargas, founder, Sudoliva

The dif­fer­ence in olive pro­duc­tion between both years is due to the pro­duc­tive alter­na­tion of the olive tree, or due to the cul­tural prac­tice of har­vest­ing the olives late for the pro­cess­ing of nat­ural black table olives,” Gianfranco Vargas, a Peruvian con­sul­tant and the founder of Sudoliva, told Olive Oil Times.

The sharp drop of global olive oil prices has forced many of Peru’s grow­ers to shift their crop from olive oil to table olive pro­duc­tion.

See Also: 2020 Harvest Updates

By mak­ing this switch, many of the pro­duc­ers left larger loads of olives on the trees until much later in the sea­son, which exac­er­bated the dif­fer­ence between the nat­ural on and off-year pro­duc­tion cycles of the trees.

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About 90 per­cent of Peru’s olive crop is des­tined for table olive pro­duc­tion, which is expected to decrease by 50 per­cent in 2020 as well.

The drop in olive oil prices has also led some in the indus­try to focus on qual­ity instead of quantity.

For the first time in Peru, we have obtained about 500 tons of early har­vest’ extra vir­gin olive oil from the native vari­ety, Criolla,” Vargas said. The olives were har­vested greener (ear­lier) and with a chang­ing color, mean­ing they are not yet ripe.”

We did it so that the olive trees do not have any block­age in flow­er­ing and avoid this alter­na­tion, which not only hurts pro­duc­ers of table olives, but also those of us who extract olive oils in Peru,” he added.

Following the suc­cess­ful pro­duc­tion of their extra vir­gin olive oils, many of these pro­duc­ers are hop­ing to get their prod­ucts on super­mar­ket shelves and into local mar­ket stalls as soon as pos­si­ble to ben­e­fit from the uptick in domes­tic olive oil con­sump­tion attrib­uted to the COVID-19 pan­demic.

While olive oil pro­duc­ers, many of whom live in more remote and sparsely pop­u­lated regions of Peru, have been mostly unaf­fected by the pan­demic, the rest of the coun­try is under a strict lockdown.

The lock­down has dri­ven down demand for bulk olive oils from the hos­pi­tal­ity sec­tor, but has spurred an increase in retail sales as con­sumers seek health­ier options dur­ing the global health crisis.

In the retail sec­tor, an increase in the sale of olive oils and table olives can be observed, mainly within the tra­di­tional chan­nel that includes cor­ner winer­ies or small shops within mar­kets,” Vargas said. In the mod­ern retail chan­nels, spe­cial­ized super­mar­ket chains and mini-mar­kets are sell­ing more olive oils than usual.”

Along with caus­ing an increase in domes­tic con­sump­tion, the pan­demic has also pushed more olive oil pro­duc­ers and retail­ers into the online marketplace.

Since the social iso­la­tion began, an increase in vir­tual stores can be clearly seen, par­tic­u­larly aimed at the sale of food and healthy prod­ucts,” Vargas said. They obvi­ously include olive oil to serve a new online con­sumer [cre­ated by] the pandemic.”

This shift online not only increases con­sumer’s expo­sure to olive oil but also allows retail­ers to gather more data about Peruvians’ con­sump­tion habits, which Vargas argues will help pro­duc­ers mar­ket their olive oils more effec­tively mov­ing forward.

While the pan­demic has served as a cat­a­lyst to make olive oil mar­ket­ing and retail­ing more effi­cient, Vargas said the next chal­lenge will be to make the pro­duc­tion sec­tor more effi­cient too.

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Progress is needed in mak­ing olive cul­ti­va­tion prof­itable, think­ing of the best options to mod­ern­ize its man­age­ment,” Vargas said.

The main chal­lenge fac­ing olive oil pro­duc­ers in Peru is the incred­i­bly dry grow­ing con­di­tions of the coun­try’s olive regions.

About 70 per­cent of Peruvian olive oil is cur­rently pro­duced in the very south­west­ern cor­ner of the coun­try, in the Atacama Desert. The remain­ing 30 per­cent is scat­tered along the coun­try’s west­ern coast­line, which due to the Humboldt cur­rent receives low annual lev­els of rain­fall as well.

While this dry weather is part of what gives Peruvian olive oils their unique organolep­tic prop­er­ties and high lev­els of polyphe­nols, it means irri­ga­tion is expen­sive and water resources are limited.

Vargas argues that in order to cut costs, Peruvian pro­duc­ers need to invest in more mod­ern and effi­cient irri­ga­tion sys­tems. He also believes more research needs to be done in order to deter­mine what vari­eties grow best in Peru.

Currently, 95 per­cent of olives grown in Peru are the native Creole vari­ety, which is descended from the Gordal de Sevilla vari­ety brought to the coun­try by the Spanish in the 16th century.

However, the vari­ety does not lend itself well to mech­a­nized har­vest­ing or high-den­sity cul­ti­va­tion, both of which Vargas believe are nec­es­sary to cut pro­duc­tion costs and make the sec­tor viable.

From now on, the chal­lenge will be to choose new vari­eties, estab­lish a frame­work for inten­sive cul­ti­va­tion, that allows the use of com­bines and mechan­i­cal prun­ing,” he said. This would gen­er­ate advan­tages sub­stan­tive for bet­ter man­age­ment in a frame­work of costs and prof­itabil­ity, con­ducive to hav­ing renewed olive groves that are healthy and productive.”



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