Chalkidiki Olive Farmers Face Tragic Fruit Set After Another Mild Winter

Table olive producers on the northern Greek peninsula are at the mercy of the region’s ever-changing microclimate, which threatens to eviscerate the approaching harvest.
By Costas Vasilopoulos
Jun. 27, 2023 20:39 UTC

Table olive pro­duc­ers from the north­ern Greek penin­sula of Chalkidiki are fac­ing extremely low lev­els of fruit set, with trees alarm­ingly empty ahead of the start of the har­vest in September.

The olive trees on the Chalkidiki penin­sula are suf­fer­ing from a com­plete lack of fruition,” said Athanasios Molasiotis, pro­fes­sor of agri­cul­ture at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. The sit­u­a­tion is tragic, and there is no exag­ger­a­tion in this.”

According to some early esti­mates, a steep drop of almost 90 per­cent is expected in the region’s yield of Chalkidiki table olives for the 2023/24 crop year com­pared to the pre­vi­ous one.

See Also:2023 Harvest Updates

It is cli­mate change and the mild win­ters that play games with the olive trees in the region,” said Elpidoforos Karathanasopoulos, head of the agri­cul­tural asso­ci­a­tion Agios Mamantos. “[The trees] do not get tired’ and sub­se­quently do not have the strength to bear fruits when expected.”

Karathanasopoulos added that the association’s mem­bers, a total of 200 grow­ers who cul­ti­vate around 600 hectares of Chalkidiki olive trees in the south of the penin­sula, are faced with total dis­as­ter the next sea­son.

More olive grow­ers in the region are fac­ing an off-year,’ a low-pro­duc­tion year in the olive trees’ nat­ural alter­nate bear­ing cycle, despite efforts to main­tain an ade­quate level of pro­duc­tion.

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In the con­text of olive oil pro­duc­tion, the term off year” refers to a year in which olive trees pro­duce a lower yield of olives. Olive trees have a nat­ural cycle of alter­nat­ing high and low pro­duc­tion years, known as on years” and off years,” respec­tively. During an on year,” the olive trees bear a greater quan­tity of fruit, result­ing in increased olive oil pro­duc­tion. This is influ­enced by var­i­ous fac­tors, includ­ing weather con­di­tions, such as rain­fall and tem­per­a­ture, as well as the tree’s age and over­all health. Conversely, an off year,” also known as a light year” or low pro­duc­tion year,” is char­ac­ter­ized by a reduced yield of olives. This can occur due to fac­tors like stress from the pre­vi­ous on year,” unfa­vor­able weather con­di­tions, or nat­ural fluc­tu­a­tions in the tree’s pro­duc­tiv­ity. Olive oil pro­duc­ers often mon­i­tor these cycles to antic­i­pate and plan for vari­a­tions in pro­duc­tion.

We have always taken good care of our trees by prun­ing, fer­til­iz­ing and water­ing them,” Anestis Karagiannakis, an olive grower from the small town of Nea Triglia in the west of the penin­sula, told Olive Oil Times.

However, from 2013, when the weather started to become warmer and warmer, we have been unable to receive high yields for two to three con­sec­u­tive years as was the case before,” he added. The cul­prit is no other than the cli­mate change.”

Karagiannakis also said that the past win­ter was unnat­u­rally warm, and the olive trees did not have the chill hours to break bud dor­mancy and bear fruit in time.

The approach­ing har­vest will be a huge dis­ap­point­ment in our area,” he said. We expect to get only 5 to 10 per­cent of our usual vol­ume of pro­duc­tion, so we will be in the fields har­vest­ing for about a week only.”

In total, 20,000 pro­duc­ers cul­ti­vate around six mil­lion Chalkidiki table olive trees on 33,000 hectares of the penin­sula. In a good year, pro­duc­tion amounts to more than 120,000 tons of olives. Around 90 per­cent of the annual yield is des­tined for export to for­eign mar­kets.

It is the sec­ond time in the last three years that low fruition lev­els impact table olive pro­duc­ers in Chalkidiki.

In 2021/22, pro­duc­tion was again severely reduced due to the inabil­ity of the olive trees to bear fruits. In the cur­rent 2022/23 crop year, how­ever, the region’s pro­duc­ers of Chalkidiki table olives enjoyed a boun­ti­ful har­vest of around 160,000 tons.

The loss in pro­duc­ers’ income — cal­cu­lated to be over €200 mil­lion — is tak­ing a toll on the region’s growth,” said Yiannis Koufides, head of the Chalkidiki Chamber of Commerce, refer­ring to the antic­i­pated decline in olive pro­duc­tion.

A sci­en­tific study will be pre­pared to doc­u­ment that the Chalkidiki table olive sec­tor has been impacted more heav­ily by cli­mate change com­pared to oth­ers in the coun­try,” Koufides added. We are already in search of clones’ of the vari­ety, which may turn out that they need less cold weather and could replace the [Chalkidiki] olive trees in order not to lose the green gold’ of our pre­fec­ture.”

Recent research from Aristotle University and the Chalkidiki Chamber of Commerce has indi­cated that olive cul­ti­va­tion in Chalkidiki will likely become unsus­tain­able in the long run due to the increas­ingly warm­ing micro­cli­mate of the penin­sula.


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