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Hailstorm Destroys Olive Groves in Spain’s Monterrubio de la Serena

Sep. 23, 2010
Sarah Schwager

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By Sarah Schwager
Olive Oil Times Contributor | Reporting from Buenos Aires

A hail­storm that destroyed up to 80% of olives in Spain’s Monterrubio de la Serena late last week has high­lighted the dev­as­tat­ing effects weather events can have on olive farmers.

The region, renowned for pro­duc­ing superb qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oil, expe­ri­enced strong winds, hail that caused whole branches to top­ple and rain so fierce that it dumped 30 liters of water per square meter in an hour around 9pm last Thursday.

Cooperative La Milagrosa de Monterrubio

The storm comes just weeks before har­vest­ing, which tra­di­tion­ally begins on November 1. It could have seri­ous effects on the region’s econ­omy, with olive cul­ti­va­tion one of Monterrubio’s main sources of income.

Cooperative soci­ety La Milagrosa de Monterrubio has released a state­ment say­ing while there is still mas­sive uncer­tainty in the area, early esti­mates are that 50% of the fruit remain­ing in the trees is dam­aged and 70% of olives within the Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) olive oil zone have been affected.

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Last sea­son the region lost one mil­lion kilo­grams of olives due to the weather, reduc­ing the olive har­vest by 17%.

La Milagrosa’s tech­ni­cal ser­vices sug­gest the losses in Monterrubio are likely to be even greater as the olives appeared on trees early this season.

The soci­ety also warns such fierce storms can cause a num­ber of reper­cus­sions on the olive trees such as tuber­cu­lo­sis, olive leaf spot and soapy olives” caused by plant pathogens.

The olive oil region is not alone in reap­ing the wrath of Mother Earth. Olive grow­ers have been bat­tling the weather for as long as olives have been farmed. Storms wiped out whole olive groves in Spain’s Murcia region in 1930 and seri­ously destroyed crops in the north of the coun­try in August 2007.

Last year Australian olive oil estate Timbercorp was forced to go into liq­ui­da­tion largely due to a debil­i­tat­ing decade-long drought in the south of the country.

In 2005, severe frosts killed 4% of Spain’s olive crops. Frost pre­ven­tion is a con­stant con­cern for olive grow­ers dur­ing the win­ter har­vest as olives can be dam­aged at tem­per­a­tures below just 29ºF while young olive trees and branches can be destroyed at tem­per­a­tures below 22ºF[1].

In the American South, Georgia farm­ers are attempt­ing to again pro­duce olive oil after an 1898 hur­ri­cane destroyed what was left of the state’s olive orchards that had been thriv­ing since the 1600s, the Washington Post reported this week.

Hailstorms are fre­quent crop killers, affect­ing olive groves all over the world. In March last year, groves around New Zealand’s cap­i­tal Wellington were hit by hail­storms, dam­ag­ing half of the region’s table olives. They were then hit again in May when snow fell on crops as low as 300 meters above sea level.

La Milagrosa will con­tinue to assess dam­age in the Monterrubio region over the com­ing days before pro­duc­ing a final report which may include a request for aid to the var­i­ous gov­ern­ment administrations.

Meanwhile the society’s pre­lim­i­nary doc­u­ment has been referred to the Plant Protection Department of the regional government’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.

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[1] The Olive Oil Source — Olive grove frost prevention

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