`Climate Change Taking a Toll on Andalusian Olive Oil Production - Olive Oil Times

Climate Change Taking a Toll on Andalusian Olive Oil Production

Aug. 1, 2022
Paolo DeAndreis

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A new study com­mis­sioned by COAG, a union of farm­ers and ranch­ers, esti­mated that cli­mate change has already slashed the annual agri­cul­ture turnover in Spain by 6 per­cent, rep­re­sent­ing a €550 mil­lion loss.

The study warns that annual losses are likely to increase based on cur­rent cli­mate pro­jec­tions.

Water is the most nec­es­sary and scarce resource avail­able to any type of olive grower. Therefore, man­ag­ing water prop­erly is vital.- Juan Vilar, strate­gic con­sul­tant

According to the research, 80 per­cent of Andalusia could become inhos­pitable for some rain­fed vari­eties – includ­ing Hojiblanca and Manzanilla – if global tem­per­a­tures exceed the pre-indus­trial aver­age by 2 °C before 2050.

The study added that the prodi­gious Picual would likely retain its pro­duc­tion capa­bil­i­ties in the south­ern Spanish region.

See Also:A Plan to Decarbonize Europe

However, should sur­face tem­per­a­tures exceed 2.5 °C, even Picual would greatly be affected, with an 83-per­cent pro­duc­tion loss esti­mated in Seville, 72-per­cent loss in Cádiz, 41-per­cent in Córdoba, 16-per­cent in Jaén and 5.7‑percent in Granada.

What we did was to exam­ine, gather and put together a lot of dif­fer­ent pieces of sci­en­tif­i­cally-sound infor­ma­tion com­ing from mul­ti­ple sources with the goal of under­stand­ing where we are head­ing,” Pablo Resco, an agron­o­mist and the direc­tor of agri­cul­tural risk at COAG, told Olive Oil Times.

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The impacts of cli­mate change are dif­fer­ent on dif­fer­ent crops, but it might also affect dif­fer­ent indus­tries in dif­fer­ent ways, and peo­ple too,” he added.

It all comes down to the sen­si­tiv­ity of each sub­ject to the changes trig­gered by a new cli­mate,” Resco con­tin­ued. Such sen­si­tiv­ity and the related adap­ta­tion abil­i­ties deter­mine the vul­ner­a­bil­ity of the spe­cific area, crop or sec­tor.”

An esti­mated 2.7 mil­lion hectares of olive groves are located in Spain, more than 20 per­cent of olive trees any­where in the world. Within Spain, Andalusia boasts 60 per­cent of national olive pro­duc­tion.

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Jaén, Spain

The industry’s annual turnover is approx­i­mately €4 bil­lion, with €1.5 bil­lion com­ing from table olives and €2.5 from olive oil.

Should the cur­rent water scarcity sit­u­a­tion con­tinue, there will be a drop in pro­duc­tion not only in Spain, but also in the rest of the planet,” Juan Vilar, a strate­gic con­sul­tant, told Olive Oil Times.

However, there have always been cycles of sev­eral years in which higher rain­fall occurs, as well as extreme drought at other times,” he added. “[What is now hap­pen­ing] will gen­er­ate a prob­lem, as extreme events will become more rad­i­cal, since there are more olive groves planted, and there will be both val­leys never pro­duced, and peaks never reached.”

To mit­i­gate the impacts of Andalusia’s grow­ing water scarcity, Vilar said pro­duc­ers would have to adopt new sus­tain­able best prac­tices.

These range from using recy­cled and de-salin­ized water to mod­ern­iz­ing irri­ga­tion sys­tems and build­ing new reser­voirs while expand­ing exist­ing ones.

Vilar added that pro­duc­ers also would need to adopt bet­ter water man­age­ment tech­niques, rewild some of their farm­land, prac­tice soil con­ser­va­tion and pre­vent water pol­lu­tion.

To obtain a holis­tic view of the risks to the Spanish agri­cul­tural sec­tor, the research also focused on wine and cereal pro­duc­tion and ranch­ing. All three are expected to face dif­fer­ent chal­lenges due to cli­mate change.

The study cal­cu­lated that extreme weather events and the pro­longed drought have resulted in €25 bil­lion in losses to the Spanish econ­omy over the past 30 years.

During this time, tem­per­a­tures have risen, some­times faster than the global aver­age, and rain­fall vol­umes have dimin­ished. These trends have fur­ther been exac­er­bated by urban­iza­tion and land man­age­ment.

According to the study, Spain’s ongo­ing drought causes up to €1.5 bil­lion of dam­age, mostly in the agri­cul­ture and energy sec­tors, each year.

The researchers pro­jected that drought and extreme weather may shrink the country’s GDP by 7 per­cent if aver­age global tem­per­a­tures rise by 2 °C. Any adap­ta­tion strat­egy will strongly depend on the use of water.

Water is the most nec­es­sary and scarce resource avail­able to any type of olive grower,” Vilar said. Therefore, man­ag­ing water prop­erly is vital. The first step would be to effi­ciently use what we already have. A sec­ond step would include reten­tion ponds to main­tain the bio­log­i­cal course of rivers and trib­u­taries. The more water accu­mu­lated, the bet­ter.”

Vilar believes that the suc­cess­ful imple­men­ta­tion of these mea­sures could lead to the expan­sion of olive grow­ing in sev­eral regions world­wide.

With those steps, the olive groves in the world would go from being 40 per­cent rain­fed and 60 per­cent irri­gated to a 30 to 70 ratio, going on to pro­duce at least between 400,000 and 600,000 more tons of oil per cam­paign,” he said.

Not to men­tion the social, sus­tain­able and bio­di­verse con­tri­bu­tions, in addi­tion to the eco­nomic ones,” Vilar added.

Along with envi­ron­men­tal adap­ta­tions, Resco believes there are nec­es­sary struc­tural changes as well, includ­ing insur­ance schemes.

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Currently you can sub­scribe to an insur­ance con­tract based on the aver­age of the five-year yield records,” he said. If the yield records become lower because of cli­mate change, the farmer will still be able to sub­scribe to that, but will have to pay a higher price.”

This is a method that will not stop the cli­mate change-trig­gered con­se­quences, but it might soften the blow,” Resco added.

Furthermore, soil health will need to be stud­ied as tem­per­a­tures rise and pre­cip­i­ta­tion pat­terns change.

Desertification and soil degra­da­tion affect large areas of the coun­try, which led the gov­ern­ment in Madrid to re-launch pro­grams to reverse the trends.

One of the main char­ac­ter­is­tics of most of Spanish agri­cul­ture is the poor soil,” Resco said.

He believes farm­ers need to enrich their soils with organic mate­ri­als, which will help pre­vent ero­sion.

Resco added that farm­ers could do this by grow­ing cover crops between rows and adopt­ing more sus­tain­able till­ing prac­tices.

Focusing on soil health it is not only nec­es­sary because of cli­mate change but also because it is the most sus­tain­able method to ensure future agri­cul­ture not only for us but also for our chil­dren,” he said.

However, he warned that this process would not be easy. Sustainable agri­cul­tural solu­tions will require sub­stan­tial cap­i­tal invest­ments and will be dif­fer­ent in dif­fer­ent areas.

Step by step we are approach­ing a tran­si­tion. It is not a choice, it is not some­thing that we can choose not to do,” Resco added.

Despite the dire sit­u­a­tion in which many of Spain’s olive farm­ers find them­selves, Resco empha­sized that there is plenty of room for mit­i­ga­tion.

However, mit­i­ga­tion will not replace national strate­gies to reduce green­house gas emis­sions and even­tu­ally cap­ture car­bon.

Taking urgent action today to keep global warm­ing below 1.5 ºC is more effi­cient and less costly,” said Miguel Padilla, COAG’s sec­re­tary-gen­eral.

The pre­ven­tion of cli­mate change will not only help us pro­tect our agri­cul­ture and econ­omy but will also ensure that an eter­nal sum­mer does not dry out our gas­tron­omy, tra­di­tions, cul­ture and iden­tity,” he con­cluded.



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