Despite Drought, Uruguay Anticipates Record Harvest

Official statistics have not been published yet, but a preliminary estimate puts the harvest at a record-high 3,000 tons.
By Daniel Dawson
Jul. 31, 2023 13:03 UTC

As the 2022/23 crop year ended in Uruguay, the small South American coun­try was in the inter­na­tional spot­light due to its ongo­ing drought.

Large swaths of the coun­try, includ­ing its two most pop­u­lous depart­ments, home to 53 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion, ran out of potable water.

The cli­mate was quite favor­able dur­ing the har­vest sea­son, with­out rain, with­out humid­ity, with healthy fruit and bet­ter oil yields- Sergio Gómez, chief exec­u­tive, Onoser

However, the largest olive-grow­ing regions were less affected, and pre­lim­i­nary esti­mates indi­cate the coun­try pro­duced 3,000 tons of olive oil.

The Santa Lucía River, the pri­mary water source for the cap­i­tal, Montevideo, and the neigh­bor­ing depart­ment of Canelones, vir­tu­ally dried up.

See Also:2023 Harvest Updates

While some sense of nor­malcy may return as the world enters El Niño, which is asso­ci­ated with above-aver­age lev­els of pre­cip­i­ta­tion in Uruguay, and a new desalin­iza­tion plant comes online to make the cap­i­tal city’s water potable again, Uruguay’s lead­ing olive grow­ing regions enjoyed near-per­fect con­di­tions.

The cli­mate was quite favor­able dur­ing the har­vest sea­son, with­out rain, with­out humid­ity, with healthy fruit and bet­ter oil yields,” Sergio Gómez, the chief exec­u­tive of Onoser, who advises many of the coun­try’s pro­duc­ers, told Olive Oil Times.


(Photo: Sergio Gómez)

This cam­paign, we are around 20 mil­lion kilo­grams of olives, with a yield of 13 to 19 per­cent depend­ing on the farm,” he added. I con­sider the increas­ingly accu­rate and adjusted tech­ni­cal man­age­ment indica­tive that the pro­duc­tive ceil­ing for planted hectares is becom­ing less and less lim­ited.”

In Maldonado, the south­east­ern depart­ment home to 80 per­cent of the country’s olive groves, pro­duc­ers echoed Gómez’s sen­ti­ment.

This has been a har­vest with a large quan­tity of fruit,” Martin Robaina, the co-owner of Olivos de las Ánimas, told Olive Oil Times. Unlike what other areas of the agri­cul­tural sec­tor have been suf­fer­ing dur­ing the har­vest period, we did very well because there was lit­tle rain.”

That allowed us to har­vest the olives unin­ter­rupted and min­i­mized the pres­ence of fun­gus on the fruit, yield­ing health­ier fruit and there­fore higher qual­ity olive oil,” he added.

Robaina said he trans­formed about 600 tons of olives har­vested from his groves and pur­chased from other local grow­ers this year.

Our biggest chal­lenge was the quan­tity of fruit we har­vested this year,” he said. Last year, our har­vest was much lower, which implied more work this year, more peo­ple and a higher level of pro­fes­sion­al­ism to achieve a high-qual­ity prod­uct.”

This year, we worked for two months with three shifts at the mill to keep going for 24 hours,” Robaina added.


Olivos de las Ánimas sits just 10 kilometers away from the mouth of the River Plate.

About 250 kilo­me­ters north of Robaina’s mill, in the depart­ment of Cerro Largo, the pro­duc­ers behind Olivares de Santa Laura also enjoyed a bumper crop and attrib­uted the yield to ideal cli­matic con­di­tions.

This year has been a great year for Uruguay and Olivares de Santa Laura in par­tic­u­lar, great quan­tity and qual­ity,” co-owner Gonzalo Aguirre, also the pres­i­dent of the Uruguayan Olive Association, told Olive Oil Times. The drier weather helped us to extend the quan­tity of early-har­vest oil.”

Olivares de Santa Laura is located near the country’s north­ern bor­der with Brazil, and Aguirre is seek­ing to take advan­tage of the bumper crop to expand his exports.


He also attempts to par­lay inter­na­tional recog­ni­tion, includ­ing con­sec­u­tive Best in Class Awards at the 2018 and 2019 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition, into a new oleo­tourism ini­tia­tive.

We have sev­eral sales options in Brazil, and we are devel­op­ing oleo­tourism,” he said. We have made a sig­nif­i­cant invest­ment in an event hall, and dur­ing the har­vest, we have orga­nized vis­its that we call the Santa Laura Experience.’ We want to con­tinue explor­ing this path.”

Back in the south­east, one of the coun­try’s two largest pro­duc­ers reported its sec­ond-best year in terms of yield vol­umes.

And for the third con­sec­u­tive year, we achieved very good pro­duc­tion lev­els,” María Morín, the mar­ket­ing man­ager at Nuevo Manatial, which pro­duces Olivares de Rocha, told Olive Oil Times.


The producers behind Olivares de Rocha enjoyed their second-highest harvest.

Until 2020, we had been expe­ri­enc­ing a very strong pro­duc­tion alter­na­tion, with year-to-year vari­a­tions of more than 50 per­cent, but in the last three years, the dif­fer­ences were less than 50 per­cent, and we are con­vinced that it is some­thing that we can main­tain in the future,” she added.

Morín attrib­uted the company’s larger and more con­sis­tent yields to changes in their fer­til­iza­tion sys­tem, improved prun­ing tech­niques, under­tak­ing an early har­vest and improved san­i­tary man­age­ment.

On the other hand, the qual­ity obtained this year is excep­tional; we are happy with the sen­sory pro­files we are obtain­ing,” she said.

After his­tor­i­cally poor har­vests were recorded across the Mediterranean basin, Morín said the company’s bumper har­vest has allowed them to pur­sue export oppor­tu­ni­ties in two heav­ily import-depen­dent mar­kets: Brazil and the United States.

This year, we have a great com­mer­cial oppor­tu­nity ahead of us since extra vir­gin olive oil is lack­ing in the world, and prices are at record lev­els,” she said. We have the chal­lenge of, on the one hand, main­tain­ing sup­ply to our his­tor­i­cal cus­tomers, but on the other hand, tak­ing advan­tage of this oppor­tu­nity to enter cus­tomers who are now look­ing for new sup­pli­ers.”

We are dis­trib­ut­ing very well in Brazil, where Olivares de Rocha is already a rec­og­nized brand, and since last year we have also achieved a sig­nif­i­cant pres­ence in the United States, these two being our main export mar­kets,” Morín added.

One of the most sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenges fac­ing the com­pany is how to most effec­tively take advan­tage of the unprece­dented oppor­tu­ni­ties pre­sent­ing them­selves to the small South American coun­try, which is home to 3.4 mil­lion peo­ple.

While pro­duc­ers on Uruguay’s east­ern and south­east­ern coast­line said the hot and dry weather of the pre­vi­ous sum­mer (which stretches from December to March in the Southern Hemisphere) helped to bol­ster yields, some of their coun­ter­parts in the country’s inte­rior cited drought as one of their main chal­lenges.

The drought that has affected all of Uruguay in 2022/23 has reached extreme val­ues, espe­cially in the depart­ment of Florida, par­tially com­pro­mis­ing the quan­tity of cur­dled olives and the final ton­nage,” María Vittoria Saccarello, the busi­ness devel­op­ment direc­tor of Pique Roto, told Olive Oil Times.


Pique Roto’s olive groves are in Florida, the central Uruguayan department.

Of the four plan­ta­tions (for a total of around 60,000 trees) present in Casupá, only one has an irri­ga­tion sys­tem and saw its water reserve run out a month before har­vest,” she added. Therefore, the har­vest in the depart­ment of Florida, although remain­ing at good lev­els, is against the trend com­pared to the other olive-grow­ing areas of the coun­try, and in 2023 it has not reached the lev­els of the pre­vi­ous har­vest.”

While Vittoria Saccarello said she har­vested fewer fruits this year, she added that the dry weather resulted in 18 to 22 per­cent above-aver­age yields in some of her Italian vari­eties.

As a result, she said the qual­ity of what was obtained was very high, with more accen­tu­ated bit­ter­ness and spici­ness com­pared to past years.”

During the Covid-19 pan­demic and its imme­di­ate after­math, pro­duc­ers across the coun­try cited sup­ply chain issues as one of the biggest chal­lenges, espe­cially a short­age of glass bot­tles and other pack­ag­ing mate­ri­als.

However, Robaina said this sit­u­a­tion has largely been resolved. Instead, find­ing enough qual­i­fied work­ers to har­vest the steadily expand­ing num­ber of trees and quickly mill increas­ing olive yields will be the coun­try’s main chal­lenge going for­ward.

The labor prob­lem is going to increase because the per­son spends more time in each of the trees,” he said. So labor becomes more expen­sive. We will all have to tran­si­tion to total mech­a­niza­tion of the har­vest to make the busi­ness work.”


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