Harvest Underway in France with Varying Expectations

Challenges created by springtime frost and summer drought have led to an uncertain harvest forecast, with production predictions ranging from 3,000 to 5,000 tons.

Harvesting at Champsoleil
Dec 10, 2021 8:16 AM EST
By Daniel Dawson
Harvesting at Champsoleil

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Springtime frosts in south­ern France cou­pled with drought across the south­west have made the 2021 olive har­vest dif­fi­cult to gauge.

The moun­tain­ous topog­ra­phy of south­ern France and its prox­im­ity to the Mediterranean Sea cre­ate many micro­cli­mates and lead to a stag­ger­ing olive har­vest. Two months into the cur­rent one, some val­leys have com­pleted the har­vest, while oth­ers will not fin­ish until January.

We are work­ing to face and over­come the dimin­ished avail­abil­ity of water for irri­ga­tion, which rep­re­sents a grow­ing chal­lenge here.- Anaïs Maillet, Château d’Estoublon

This makes esti­mat­ing the har­vest dif­fi­cult in the best of con­di­tions. However, this year pro­duc­tion esti­mates range from 3,000 tons to 5,000 tons. By com­par­i­son, France pro­duced about 4,500 tons of olive oil in the 2020/21 crop year, accord­ing to Laurent Bélorgey, the pres­i­dent of France Olive.

See Also: 2021 Harvest Updates

The European Commission esti­mates that France will pro­duce 4,605 tons in the cur­rent crop year, with 525 tons of olive oil pro­duced by mid-November, the lat­est date for which pro­duc­tion fig­ures were pub­lished.

However, Bélorgey, who is also an olive grower, thinks olive oil pro­duc­tion will be slightly higher, bring­ing this year’s yield closer to the ini­tial esti­mates for the 2020/21 crop year.

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The French har­vest should reach 5,000 tons this year thanks to oil yields exceed­ing expec­ta­tions with a rather aver­age ton­nage of olives,” he told Olive Oil Times. The olives were very healthy this year despite a sum­mer rather favor­able to the olive fly with no great heat and rain.”

Nestled into the Alpilles moun­tains between Marseille and Montpellier, the pro­duc­ers at Château d’Estoublon expect to pro­duce less olive oil than pre­vi­ously antic­i­pated as a result of the spring­time frosts.

Anaïs Maillet, the company’s tech­ni­cal direc­tor, told Olive Oil Times ear­lier this month that the har­vest began in November and will end by mid-December.

Right now, we have to face frost events, such as those we had in the spring, which were once very rare,” she said. In these times, we are work­ing to face and over­come the dimin­ished avail­abil­ity of water for irri­ga­tion, which rep­re­sents a grow­ing chal­lenge here and else­where.”

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Château d’Estoublon

According to François Aurouze, an agri­cul­tural expert at the con­sul­tancy Vignoble Conseil, drought in the country’s south­west had a far more severe impact on the har­vest than frost did, with pro­duc­tion decreases as high as 50 per­cent depend­ing on the loca­tion.

Production is expected to be between 3,000 and 3,500 tons of oil, instead of 5,500 tons of oil for a good year,” he told Olive Oil Times. That means a 25 to 30-per­cent decrease.”

The prob­lem was to har­vest the olives at the right time because the matu­rity was het­ero­ge­neous due to the small har­vest vol­ume, with very lightly loaded trees and nor­mally loaded trees in the same plan­ta­tion,” Aurouze added.

Located just out­side of Nice, in the south­west cor­ner of France, Henri Derepas told Olive Oil Times that he expects to pro­duce 25-per­cent less olive oil this year than the pre­vi­ous decade’s aver­age.

The owner of Champsoleil said the har­vest started in mid-October this year, far ear­lier than usual and had wrapped up by the begin­ning of December.

Many of our col­leagues, includ­ing pro­fes­sion­als, have had a white sea­son with­out any olives,” he said. The [off-cycle in the alter­nate bear­ing nature of the olive tree] has once again been exac­er­bated. It is dif­fi­cult to explain every­thing other than a dis­turbed cli­mate with all its con­se­quences on the orchard.”

Still, Derepas is pleased with the qual­ity of the olive oil he has obtained and was still able to pro­duce plenty of other olive-derived prod­ucts, includ­ing tape­nade, olive pastes and table olives, from his 15-ton crop.

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While cli­mate change is usu­ally at the top of the list of the farmer’s con­cerns, as Derepas rapidly approaches his retire­ment, a new con­cern has sup­planted it.

The biggest chal­lenge will be to pass on our farm because we are retir­ing next year, and this is a very big prob­lem,” he said. In France, many farms stop with­out effec­tive recov­ery.”

According to the France24 news agency, the num­ber of farm­ers in France decreases by two per­cent each year as old farm­ers retire with no one to replace them. The country’s age­ing work­force means about 15 per­cent of farm­ers will retire in the next five years, leav­ing many home­steads aban­doned.

In our depart­ment, the olive grow­ing indus­try is par­tic­u­larly con­cerned,” Derepas said. Even more, seri­ously, some mills are begin­ning to be con­cerned, but even if it is true that our coun­try is a minor player in the world of inter­na­tional olive grow­ing, it’s upset us very much.”





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