Farmers in France Confirm Grim Predictions as Harvest Gets Underway

Heat and drought led to premature olive drops across southern France. The yield is expected to fall by 50 percent compared to last year.

(Photo: Mas des Bories)
Oct. 6, 2022
By Paolo DeAndreis
(Photo: Mas des Bories)

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Unusual weather con­di­tions after the flow­er­ing and dur­ing the sum­mer have affected French olive grow­ers’ expec­ta­tions for the 2022 har­vest.

Growers and experts believe the olive oil yield in the coun­try will be sig­nif­i­cantly lower com­pared to pre­vi­ous years. In August, pro­duc­ers esti­mated the har­vest would be 50 per­cent below last year’s.

In the face of cli­mate change, as a small pro­ducer, we have to be way more reac­tive and flex­i­ble than in the past.- Claire Coutin, owner, Mas des Bories

The chang­ing cli­mate is an increas­ing chal­lenge. The dry­ness we expe­ri­enced this year, cou­pled with very high tem­per­a­tures, might affect quan­tity and qual­ity in many areas,” Marie Barbé, tech­ni­cal man­ager at Domaine de Leos, a pro­ducer in Provence and NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition win­ner, told Olive Oil Times.

At the begin­ning of the sea­son, we were very happy with the flow­er­ing, then came the winds and the heat­waves, so a lot of flow­ers dried up,” she added. On top of that is the scarcity of water which has been hav­ing an impact on the devel­op­ment of the olive.”

See Also:2022 Harvest Updates

Anthony Bérenguier, olive oil pro­duc­tion man­ager at Moulins de Callas in south­east­ern France, told local media that he expects a 20 to 60 per­cent lower yield.

Normally, I can plan for 60 to 80 tons per year in my 12 hectares,” he said. This sea­son, I do not expect to reach half of that.”

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According to Olivier Nasles, pres­i­dent of the National Committee of Organic Agriculture, there will be a con­sid­er­able pro­duc­tion drop in the 2022 har­vest.

We will have to be happy if we man­age to pro­duce 3,000 tons [of olive oil] against the 5,500 of the last sea­son,” he said.

Nasles told LeGrandPastis that such num­bers are not cat­a­strophic.”

But when we look at the behav­ior of the olive groves, we no longer fully under­stand what is hap­pen­ing,” he said, ref­er­enc­ing the increas­ingly evi­dent impact of cli­mate change on tra­di­tional olive pro­duc­tion.

Producers say that changes are com­ing to olive grow­ers, and adap­ta­tion is vital.

In just 20 years, I have seen a lot of changes, so we have to adapt,” Barbé said. For instance, you have to study the cul­ti­vars, under­stand­ing which of them are react­ing bet­ter to change.”

Jean-Benoit Hugues, the owner of Moulin Castelas in Les Baux-de-Provence, told Anadolu Agency that he expects a 50 per­cent drop in olive oil pro­duc­tion.

Hughes blamed the heat­wave suf­fered in the region. We lost a lot of the har­vest, and the olives which sur­vived are too small.”

Barbé said adap­ta­tion to the chang­ing cli­mate is vital to organic farm­ing.

During this hot, dry sum­mer, we pro­vided the trees some emer­gency irri­ga­tion but no more than that,” she said. The aim is a good har­vest, of course, but I do not want to push the trees.”

We pre­fer to fol­low nature and the sea­son, to adapt to its rhythm,” Barbé added. We just aim at main­tain­ing the roots of the trees in a good state so they can pro­duce good qual­ity fruits.”

Our approach is entirely organic,” she con­tin­ued. Some organic amino acids might be used to pro­tect the trees from excess heat, and other organic farm­ing tech­niques aim to pre­vent an excess of evap­o­tran­spi­ra­tion in the field. The goal is to adapt to the cli­mate and con­tinue focus­ing on high qual­ity.”

The coun­try’s most rel­e­vant table olive and olive oil-pro­duc­ing regions are Bouches-du-Rhône, le Gard, la Drôme, le Var and le Vaucluse. All have been affected to some extent by the excep­tional weather con­di­tions of the last few months.

Eight Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) extra vir­gin olive oils are pro­duced in those regions. Such PDOs rep­re­sent approx­i­mately 27 per­cent of French olive oil pro­duc­tion.

According to France Olive, an indus­try asso­ci­a­tion, 66 per­cent of national olive oil pro­duc­tion comes from south­ern Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur. Some small grow­ers man­aged to avoid the worst effects of this year’s extra­or­di­nary weather.

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(Photo: Mas des Bories)

The drought has hit many areas of the coun­try, and we all face the con­se­quences of an extra­or­di­nary sit­u­a­tion,” Claire Coutin, owner of Mas des Bories in Salon de Provence, told Olive Oil Times.

In some olive-pro­duc­ing areas, grow­ers are left with no olives at all,” the NYIOOC win­ner added. In our case, we were quite lucky, as we expect a very good har­vest both in qual­ity and vol­umes.”

I say this as the num­ber of olives is way larger than last year, and I can see our trees are very healthy, I would say happy olive trees, so I expect qual­ity to be very high,” she con­tin­ued.

Coutin believes that the extra­or­di­nary weather events of last sum­mer and the pro­longed drought will influ­ence yields but will have a min­i­mal impact on qual­ity.

With such a hot sum­mer, the olive trees have expe­ri­enced some stress, of course,” she said. Still, we expect our best har­vest to come from local vari­eties such as Bouteillan and Grossane, which tra­di­tion­ally do not yield huge vol­umes.”

This is because they do not pro­duce large amounts of olives, and their olives do not carry large quan­ti­ties of olive oil,” Coutin added. However, this year, we are see­ing that they are far­ing bet­ter than usual.”

The first weeks of October will see many farm­ers begin their har­vest.

We will prob­a­bly start har­vest­ing in mid-October, which is ear­lier than we used to do,” Coutin said, adding that the goal was to pro­duce a green fruity oil, which is appre­ci­ated by our cus­tomers in the United States. Every year it seems that the right moment comes a bit ear­lier.”

According to a recent report by Meteo France, heat­waves in the coun­try are expected to increase sub­stan­tially.

In the past, such extreme events affected the coun­try every five years on aver­age, but since 2000, they have become an annual phe­nom­e­non.

Furthermore, French mete­o­rol­o­gists believe that the dura­tion of the heat waves has increased nine-fold in the last few years. In 2022, heat waves hit the coun­try for 28 days in just three months.

The only good thing about the heat­waves is that we do not see many pests around, as the olive fruit fly does not like too warm tem­per­a­tures,” Coutin said. If we talk about cli­mate events and refer only to the last two or three years, I would say that the way we man­age our orchard has been con­tin­u­ously chang­ing and adapt­ing.”

In the face of cli­mate change, as a small pro­ducer, we have to be way more reac­tive and flex­i­ble than in the past,” she added. We used to have a fixed sched­ule for har­vest­ing our olives. We knew we would have to start at the end of October with a cul­ti­var and then we would have pro­ceeded to the other ones in a spe­cific order.”

Today, all vari­eties tend to ripen almost at the same time or, on the con­trary, they fol­low a com­pletely dif­fer­ent tim­ing,” Coutin con­tin­ued. We need to be always ready.”

In south­ern France, not all grow­ers expressed opti­mism about the future, but expe­ri­enced grow­ers such as Barbé are adapt­ing to the next nor­mal.

There will be those try­ing to use con­ven­tional means or mul­ti­ply nutri­ents on the trees to make them stay strong, but in the end, we should all know that we will have very good years and other sea­sons when the yields will be low,” Barbé said.

In Provence, on our hills, we have an ideal ter­roir to grow olive trees as the soil is rich and rain­fall drains very well,” she added. We also have weather which is usu­ally not too hot.”

On top of that, there is the advan­tage of the impact of the sea, which is not so far, and tem­per­a­tures in win­ter are not too cold,” Barbé con­cluded. Here, you can pro­duce green fruity or ripe fruity olives; both will yield very high qual­ity.”



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