Croatia's Harvest Bests Pests

Croatia's ever-optimistic olive farmers held the 12th annual "Days of Young Olive Oil" festival in the Istrian town of Vodnjan to celebrate a bountiful harvest undeterred by pests plaguing the country's other regions.

Dec. 1, 2016
By Joseph Orovic

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Croatia’s ever-opti­mistic olive farm­ers held the 12th annual Days of Young Olive Oil” fes­ti­val in the Istrian town of Vodnjan last week­end, cel­e­brat­ing a boun­ti­ful har­vest unde­terred by pests plagu­ing some regions.

The three-day gath­er­ing let con­sumers and pro­duc­ers unwind while tak­ing early stock of the year’s crop.

I wouldn’t say it’s a record year, but it’s obvi­ously good.- Katja Gašparini, Agrolaguna

The main chal­lenges this year were dry peri­ods dur­ing the sum­mer and the emer­gence of the olive fruit fly,” said Bernardina Hlevjan Pastrovicchio, agron­o­mist for the local Agroturist” Association of Vodnjan, in an email inter­view. We read­ily antic­i­pated [both].”
See Also: Complete Coverage of the 2016 Olive Harvest
Other agron­o­mists told local daily Jutarnji List olive totals across Croatia will top last year’s, with some esti­mat­ing a 6,000-tons of fruit picked nation­wide. If accu­rate, the fig­ure would nearly dou­ble last year’s 3,500-ton crop.

Pastrovicchio, who often meets with the asso­ci­a­tion’s 350-plus mem­bers, expects about 500 tons of healthy oil.

Olive farm­ers can only truly relax when the har­vest is at the mill,” she added.

Vodnjan hopes to become the epi­cen­ter of Istria’s bud­ding agri­cul­tural indus­try, going beyond oil to include aro­matic herbs and local pro­duce.

Organizers of the fes­ti­val claim it has helped drive an oil revival in the town: the num­ber of planted and active olive trees has quadru­pled over the last decade.

Bands regaled expe­ri­enced hands and curi­ous locals at the fes­ti­val. An oil bar” manned by a con­nois­seur ped­dled sam­ples of fresh-pressed oil. Agronomists and experts doled out advice to novices and long­time farm­ers alike. Chefs made young olive oil-depen­dent dishes, from surf to turf to veg­gies, in a fully-func­tion­ing kitchen as part of a three-day gas­tro show.”

Croatia’s over­all har­vest comes after spring rains and frost dur­ing the olive pol­li­na­tion period made some farm­ers ner­vous. Their expec­ta­tions were fur­ther dashed by an unex­pected onslaught of olive flies and moths.

But locals in Vodnjan claim for­tune rewarded those who pre­pared.

Yields, among other things, depend on the attack of pests and dis­eases,” Pastrovicchio said. We have a lot of organic olive groves, and noth­ing is left to chance.”

Agrolaguna, an olive oil pro­ducer based in the Istrian town of Poreč, told local news­pa­pers a high yield of 12 per­cent allowed it to lower the price of its young olive oil from 99 to 85 Croatian kunas per liter (about $12) with­out a drop in qual­ity.

Head of Operations Katja Gašparini told local daily Glas Istre the com­pany expected a 1.3 mil­lion-kilo­gram har­vest by the end of the year.

I wouldn’t say it’s a record year, but it’s obvi­ously good,” she told the paper.

The sur­pris­ing har­vest caused a log­jam out­side Agrolaguna’s mill, as smaller pro­duc­ers and pri­vate cit­i­zens waited longer than expected to press their olives, Gašparini added.

While the Istrian penin­sula wal­lowed in unex­pected lucre, efforts to build up the Kvarner gulf’s oil pro­duc­tion finally paid off.

Comprised of the coastal wedge to Istria’s east, it includes towns lin­ing the coast as well as the islands of Krk, Cres and Rab, among oth­ers.

It’s not even impor­tant if we break any records this year,” Mateo Ferarić, direc­tor of the agri­cul­tural coop­er­a­tive on Cres, told Glas Istre. After sev­eral bar­ren years, the coop’s har­vest jumped to 600 tons this year despite an ongo­ing bat­tle with flies and moths.

Krk also expe­ri­enced a bumper crop almost match­ing its 1,800-ton record. Earlier this year, the European Union granted the island’s olive oil PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) sta­tus.

Other parts of the Adriatic had fewer rea­sons to cel­e­brate. Olive flies and moths forced unpre­pared farm­ers along the Dalmatian coast to start pick­ing early.

Everyone who treated their trees against flies and moths had a good har­vest,” Ivica Ljubenkov, pres­i­dent of the Association of Croatian Olive Oil Producers told Jutarnji List.

Still, local pro­duc­ers con­tinue to lament pal­try demand for olive oil at home. Croats, on aver­age, con­sume only two liters of olive oil per capita.

The num­ber seems down­right stingy com­pared to other Mediterranean pro­duc­ers: Italians con­sume 12 liters, while Spaniards and Greeks down 20 liters per per­son, accord­ing to Agrolaguna’s Gašparini. Low con­sump­tion in Croatian regions that do not pro­duce olive oil drags the fig­ure down, she added.

The lack­lus­ter demand, as well as a trade deficit flood­ing local mar­kets with oils from big­ger EU-based pro­duc­ers, has stunted the industry’s growth within Croatia.

Pastrovicchio sees a big­ger deter­rent ahead.

Croatia needs to speed up the dis­posal of state-owned agri­cul­tural land, either by sell­ing or leas­ing it, because the process has slowed in recent years,” she said, refer­ring to left­over gov­ern­ment-owned rural land which is not leased or sold to local farm­ers.


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