Harvest Winds Down in Greece with Mixed Results

Good quality and mediocre quantity characterize the 2020 season in Greece, as the pandemic continues its reign of challenges and uncertainties for producers.
Jan. 20, 2021
Costas Vasilopoulos

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As the 2020 har­vest draws to an end in Greece, data released by the European Commission reveal a mediocre sea­son of olive oil pro­duc­tion with a pro­jected out­put of around 265,000 tons.

Other esti­mates, though, pre­dict a lower total of 230,000 to 240,000 tons.

Many pro­duc­ers fol­lowed the advice of experts and har­vested too soon fear­ing the fruit fly, with­out rely­ing on their expe­ri­ence.- Priamos Ieronymakis, Wine and olive oil pro­duc­ers asso­ci­a­tion of Crete

The lack­lus­ter sea­son is reflected in sev­eral olive oil mak­ing ter­ri­to­ries of the coun­try, with grow­ers and pro­duc­ers expect­ing less than their usual out­put.

This sea­son, the whole region of Laconia will give almost half of its usual 30,000 tons of olive oil, mainly because of the heat­wave of last spring,” Giorgos Korinnis, an agri­cul­tur­ist and pro­ducer from Laconia in the Peloponnese, told Olive Oil Times.

Korinnis said the warm weather was enough to over­turn the nat­ural devel­op­ment of the olive fruits to matu­rity.

It may seem like a small period, but the four con­sec­u­tive days in May with unusu­ally high tem­per­a­tures soar­ing above 35°C (95°F) took a heavy toll on the olive trees in the region,” he said. The olive fruits ended up being wrin­kled with not enough juice inside at the time of pro­cess­ing, giv­ing less olive oil than they should.”

See Also: Unusual Spring Heat Brings Early Problems for Greek Farms

Korinnis also described the lack of man­power as a sig­nif­i­cant prob­lem which made the har­vest more dif­fi­cult to com­plete.

Foreign land labor­ers were dif­fi­cult to come by due to the travel restric­tions,” he said. We had to be resource­ful to har­vest our olives by uti­liz­ing all means avail­able. I even know a pro­ducer who bought an auto­matic har­vest­ing machine for €60,000 to over­come the scarcity of work­ers, but of course, not every­body can do the same.”

Further south in Crete, mill owner and exporter Manos Rodanakis of Nutricreta from Sitia in the east­ern part of the island also expects a mid-range har­vest this sea­son.

The whole island of Crete fares 60 per­cent of its usual pro­duc­tion and Sitia is expected to make around 7,000 tons of olive oil, com­pared to 14,000 tons in highly pro­duc­tive years,” Rodanakis reported.

All the olive oil of Sitia is extra vir­gin of excel­lent qual­ity bear­ing a PDO label,” he added. We export our EVOO to France and Eastern Europe, mostly Russia, but unfor­tu­nately prices at ori­gin are cur­rently below €3 per kilo now. We have seen, how­ever, that mar­kets of Eastern Europe ask for more olive oil and they are likely to sur­pass tra­di­tional mar­kets.”

Other parts of the island are not see­ing the high qual­ity reported in Sitia. In some areas, early-har­vested olives gave oil of very low acid­ity but with other char­ac­ter­is­tics dimin­ished, as other Cretan pro­duc­ers pointed out.

The olive oil pro­duced in October did not have the aro­mas or the per­for­mance of the November olive oil,” said Vaggelis Protogerakis, head of the pro­duc­ers asso­ci­a­tion of Heraklion.

Unfortunately we did not do as expected because October and November had dif­fer­ent weather con­di­tions com­pared to the pre­vi­ous sea­son,” he added. The [olive oil] qual­i­ties of October were not so good. Importers did not like the olive oils they tasted. And, for the most part, not even the [chem­i­cal] analy­ses revealed a qual­ity prod­uct.”

Priamos Ieronymakis, the head of the wine and olive oil pro­duc­ers asso­ci­a­tion of Crete, argued that early har­vest is not a panacea and pro­duc­ers should decide when to pick their olives.

See Also: The Best Olive Oils from Greece

Agourelio (early-har­vested olive oil) can be a great prod­uct, pro­vided there is a good plan­ning and that we put for­ward the quan­ti­ties the mar­ket wants,” he said.

If a fruit is ready [for har­vest] the pro­ducer knows and can judge after years of expe­ri­ence,” he added. This sea­son, many pro­duc­ers fol­lowed the advice of experts and har­vested too soon fear­ing the fruit fly, with­out rely­ing on their expe­ri­ence and check­ing their olives.”

In the weath­ered island of Lesvos in the Aegean, which has suf­fered con­sec­u­tive prob­lem­atic har­vest sea­sons mainly due to adverse weather fluc­tu­a­tions, a local mill owner and exporter Michalis Tzortzis is con­tin­u­ing to process olives amid snow­fall.

It is snow­ing these days in Lesvos, and we have not yet wrapped up oper­a­tions for the sea­son,” Tzortzis told Olive Oil Times.

The snow was the least of his prob­lems, Tzortzis noted, as the pan­demic has had a sig­nif­i­cant effect on the cur­rent sea­son.

We are under a strict lock­down here and we have to stop work­ing at 6 p.m. and return tomor­row morn­ing to con­tinue, some­thing that dis­rupts our pro­duc­tion” he said. The weather was very dry this year and It is an aver­age sea­son in terms of quan­tity. The qual­ity of the olive oil, on the other hand, is really great with more extra vir­gin pro­duced than pre­vi­ous years.”

Tzortzis also bemoaned what he called a lack of con­ti­nu­ity in the local farm­ing sec­tor — a long-term prob­lem he con­sid­ers to be a threat to the olive oil indus­try of the island.

Young peo­ple here do not become farm­ers, not because they are afraid of hard work, but because the income is low and not secured,” he said. This cre­ates a more and more aging farm­ing pop­u­la­tion on the island and could ulti­mately put in peril our agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion includ­ing olive oil.”

In terms of prices, Lesvos appears to be the excep­tion with extra vir­gin sell­ing higher com­pared to other ter­ri­to­ries of the coun­try, as Tzortzis and other pro­duc­ers said.

Prices at ori­gin are cur­rently above €3 per kilo on the island, which is good for pro­duc­ers but not so good for exporters who can­not com­pete against cheaper olive oils in inter­na­tional mar­kets,” Tzortzis said.

We export to 14 coun­tries in Europe, how­ever, we see that the finan­cial sit­u­a­tion of buy­ers is not what it used to be. Consumers have become cau­tious and selec­tive and they think twice before buy­ing.”

See Also: Industry Data Dashboard

Another olive oil pro­fes­sional from Lesvos, bot­tler Haralambos Papadellis, said that the prices of olive oil on the island are higher than else­where in Greece.

Extra vir­gin is being bought at Spanish’ prices of €3 per kilo, and in some cases for even more,“Papadellis said. These prices are much higher than the pre­vail­ing prices in the Greek mar­ket. In gen­eral, prices are bet­ter com­pared to last year in all the vir­gin olive oils and lam­pante oil.”

In other ter­ri­to­ries of the coun­try, there were no sig­nif­i­cant prob­lems related to the fruit fly, and the olive oil is of high qual­ity. But here was reduced vol­ume, like in the Ilia region where 25,000 tons are expected com­pared to 30,000 tons in good years.

Estimates for the neigh­bor­ing Messinia, in con­trast, pre­dict a strong yield sim­i­lar to quan­ti­ties of pros­per­ous sea­sons of around 50,000 tons of olive oil.

What remains for Greek pro­duc­ers and exporters is the con­tin­u­ing impact of the pan­demic and the long-last­ing clo­sures that affect the whole sec­tor.

If it were not for the pan­demic and the var­i­ous lock­downs and busi­ness clo­sures it has caused, demand and prices for Greek olive oil would have been much bet­ter,” Manos Rodanakis of Nutricreta said.





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