Farmers in Apulia Deal with Drought, High Costs as Harvest Begins

Steep price rises for energy and fuel are adding unprecedented costs for producers. Meanwhile, agricultural associations warn drought-induced damage is worse than previously predicted.

By Paolo DeAndreis
Oct. 27, 2021 11:45 UTC

Farmers in the south­ern Italian region of Puglia have warned local insti­tu­tions that the severe drought that hit the coun­try will result in lower olive oil yields than pre­vi­ously expected.

They asked for com­pen­sa­tion and for the strate­gic over­haul­ing of crit­i­cal infra­struc­tures, such as irri­ga­tion, which they believe are in need of new invest­ment.

A new pol­icy is needed… to face this long-last­ing price rise shock, which is men­ac­ing both farm­ing and live­stock. We risk los­ing agri-busi­nesses that will be forced to sell or close.- Raffaele Carabba, pres­i­dent, Italian Agricultural Confederation – Puglia

Presidents of dozens of farm­ing asso­ci­a­tions linked to the Assoproli Bari pro­duc­ers’ orga­ni­za­tion asked for imme­di­ate sup­port for grow­ers who are now fac­ing a steep rise in pro­duc­tion costs.

See Also:In Tuscany, Farmers Cope With Climate Challenges While Striving for Top Quality

According to the local branch of the Italian Agricultural Confederation (CIA), pro­duc­tion costs for olives, live­stock, vine­yards, veg­eta­bles and cere­als have risen by 25 to 50 per­cent. This is due to the ris­ing prices of ani­mal feed, fuel, trans­porta­tion, water and energy.

The CIA added that water is increas­ingly essen­tial in a ter­ri­tory plagued by a long-last­ing drought. The grow­ing demand for irri­ga­tion not only stressed the water basins and reserves but also high­lighted the many defi­cien­cies of an aging sys­tem through which high vol­umes of water are wasted.

Additionally, fuel for agri­cul­ture is increas­ingly expen­sive. Damage incurred on Puglia’s crops from extreme weather events has led to increased fuel con­sump­tion. Meanwhile, demand for elec­tric energy has also grown 25 per­cent in the last 12 months, while equip­ment prices are also on the rise.

Given the strength of the inter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tion in terms of olive oil pro­duc­tion vol­umes and lower work­force costs, which also affect the mar­ket prices, the local asso­ci­a­tions asked for new poli­cies for the whole sec­tor. According to their pres­i­dents, many in Puglia could soon choose to leave the olive farm­ing sec­tor because of the uncer­tain­ties about its eco­nomic via­bil­ity.

A new pol­icy is needed… to face this long-last­ing price rise shock, which is men­ac­ing both farm­ing and live­stock,” said Raffaele Carabba, CIA Puglia’s pres­i­dent. We risk los­ing agri-busi­nesses that will be forced to sell or close with rel­e­vant con­se­quences on local econ­omy and occu­pa­tion.”

To work on those mar­gins and give value to high-qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oil, three local asso­ci­a­tions of olive oil millers have also joined forces.

The Quality Olive Oil Millers Association (FIOQ), the Italian Association of Olive Oil Mill Operators (AIFO) and the Apulian Olive Oil Mill Operators Association (AFP) have agreed on a com­mon pol­icy for the first time around three focal points.

The millers will fix the price of the olives only after they are trans­formed so that the price is based on the actual (rather than pre­dicted) yield and qual­ity.

The millers will also work to pre­vent fraud by includ­ing the ori­gin of the processed olives and their cul­ti­vars in the invoices. Finally, the millers will delay the open­ing of the mills due to the later ripen­ing of the dru­pes as a result of the drought.

According to Riccardo Guglielmi, FIOQ’s pres­i­dent, the millers believe that pric­ing the olives only after trans­for­ma­tion and bal­anc­ing it on yields and qual­ity is meant to cur­tail mar­ket spec­u­la­tions.”

Those spec­u­la­tions, he added, hap­pened in the past when some pro­duc­ers have slyly used chem­i­cal addi­tives to alter the nat­ural color of the olives in order to trick millers about the real ripen­ing stage of the olives.”

Since the yields heav­ily depend on the ripen­ing, the yields them­selves might be a con­sis­tent para­me­ter to fix a price. It might also be used to pro­mote qual­ity,” Guglielmo said.

In other regions of Puglia, the first olive trees planted in Xylella fas­tidiosa-hit areas are becom­ing pro­duc­tive, open­ing new pos­si­ble sce­nar­ios for the local olive oil sec­tor.

Xylella fas­tidiosa has rav­aged Puglia’s olive groves but is not stop­ping resilient cul­ti­vars, such as Favolosa and Leccino, from yield­ing healthy fruit.

In an olive orchard in Acaya, in just two years after it was planted, the trees are start­ing to pro­duce fruit.

It is a proof of con­cept plant to show that it can work. We are hav­ing olive oil yields of 20 per­cent for Favolosa and 15 per­cent for Leccino,” local farmer Fabio Ingrosso told Lecce News24.

While Leccino and Favolosa are not com­pletely immune to Xylella fas­tidiosa, the cul­ti­vars still man­age to grow and show a high level of resilience to the oth­er­wise deadly bac­te­ria.


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