Heatwave, Deadly Fires Threaten the Approaching Olive Harvest in Greece

The ongoing drought has led to wildfires burning around the country, damaging olive trees, and further diminishing the prospects of the 2021 harvest.

Lefteris Damianidis
Aug. 17, 2021
By Costas Vasilopoulos
Lefteris Damianidis

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In the first week of August, Greece faced the most severe heat­wave in 30 years, with tem­per­a­tures soar­ing to around 45 °C for sev­eral days in a row.

The com­bi­na­tion of the pro­longed drought and the com­plete absence of rain for the past three months have dried out the soil and deprived the olive trees of any water source and the grow­ers of a sub­stan­tial crop.

We are extremely wor­ried, but all we can do now is wait. If we get some rain before har­vest time, we will at least get part of the yield of olive oil we were ini­tially expect­ing.- Nikos Papailiou, olive farmer and mill owner

Many pro­duc­ing ter­ri­to­ries of Greece are feel­ing the impacts of the heat, espe­cially the areas in which olive groves are not irri­gated, such as the Aetolia-Acarnania region in the cen­tral-west of the coun­try, the largest pro­ducer of Kalamon table olives.

See Also: 2021 Harvest Updates

After last year’s rich har­vest, we were expect­ing a mediocre yield of olives this sea­son, but the out­put of the trees will be fur­ther dete­ri­o­rated by the recent heat­wave,” Alexandros Samaras, a local agri­cul­tur­ist, told Olive Oil Times. This goes mostly for the table olives of the Kalamon vari­ety, but the trees that pro­vide olives for pro­cess­ing have also been affected.”

Our groves were watered until some years ago, but not any­more,” he added. Many trees that have been harmed by the heat have already dropped most of their olive fruits as they can no longer sus­tain them.”

Similar ram­i­fi­ca­tions of the drought and the heat­wave were also reported in other areas of the coun­try, where an alarm­ing sit­u­a­tion began to take shape in the spring when frost events were fol­lowed by hot­ter than usual days.

Producers on Crete are brac­ing them­selves for a record-low yield of olive oil – around 20,000 tons – accord­ing to the deputy direc­tor of the Heraklion agri­cul­tural asso­ci­a­tion, Myron Hilentzakis.

In the region of Korinthia in the Peloponnese, most olive groves are non-irri­gated. Many olive trees of the Manaki vari­ety, which dom­i­nate the region, remain fruit­less due to the pre­vail­ing dry weather con­di­tions.

The phe­nom­e­non of reduced fruition is also evi­dent in the olive groves of Messenia, one of the most boun­ti­ful ter­ri­to­ries of the coun­try, which usu­ally pro­duces more than 50,000 tons of top-qual­ity olive oil.

The prospects are bet­ter in the neigh­bor­ing region of Lakonia, where most of the olive groves are irri­gated. As a result, the area expects to match its aver­age annual pro­duc­tion of olive oil with around 24,000 tons next sea­son.

Greece has already requested finan­cial aid from the European Union for olive oil and table olive pro­duc­ers affected by the adverse weather of last spring.

To add insult to injury, the week-long heat­wave was fol­lowed by deadly wild­fires, which are now con­tained but con­tinue to burn forests and crops across the coun­try.

The ter­ri­to­ries hit most seri­ously were the north­ern out­skirts of Athens, the region of Ilia in the Peloponnese, the Mani area in Laconia and the north of Evia, the sec­ond-largest Greek island, located in the Aegean Sea just a few miles off the main­land.

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Smoke plumes of the wildfires in Greece on 8 August 2021 (NASA)

Thousands were evac­u­ated from vil­lages and set­tle­ments in these areas, where the fires took a heavy toll on prop­er­ties, houses and live­stock. Two deaths were reported, includ­ing a fire­fighter who was fatally injured while on duty in the north of Athens.

“[It’s] a cat­a­stro­phe,” Marinos Anastopoulos, a farmer in the Peloponnese, said. The fire came around mid­day with swirling winds, and homes were burned. A lot of ani­mals burned to death. Rabbits, sheep, dogs, every­thing.”

According to ini­tial esti­mates, the blazes have con­sumed more than 89,000 hectares of forests and crops so far, a whop­ping increase of 336 per­cent com­pared to the yearly aver­ages from 2002 to 2020.

The olive groves sur­round­ing Ancient Olympia in the Ilia region, a con­tem­po­rary town near the archae­o­log­i­cal site of Olympia, had to cope with the wild­fires that rav­aged the area, fanned by the drought and the extreme heat.

According to Yiorgos Georgopoulos, the mayor of Ancient Olympia, around 5,300 hectares of the crops burned in the area were olive trees. The mayor also warned that many of the local mills would be out of busi­ness due to the unavoid­able reduc­tion of olive pro­duc­tion in the com­ing years.

Local pro­duc­ers said they are fac­ing an unprece­dented sit­u­a­tion, and the com­ing har­vest­ing sea­son remains a chal­leng­ing puz­zle to untan­gle.

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Apostolis Panagiotou

Our area is teem­ing with olive trees of the Koroneiki and the Nemoutiana cul­ti­vars,” Nikos Papailiou, an olive farmer and mill owner based at Xirokambos near Ancient Olympia, told Olive Oil Times.

We had never seen that before,” he added. The trees are not irri­gated, and the per­sis­tent drought com­bined with the recent heat­wave wore them out. On top of that, many olive trees were destroyed by the wild­fires. As a result, many grow­ers based in set­tle­ments near Ancient Olympia have lost large swathes of their olive groves.”

It is still early to esti­mate the exact over­all dam­age inflicted, espe­cially on the trees affected by the fires,” Papailiou con­tin­ued, fear­ing that next sea­son’s prospects of the olive oil yield in the area have become gloomier.

In any case, it is a pity because we were ahead of a strong yield this year both in terms of qual­ity and quan­tity,” he con­cluded. We are extremely wor­ried, but all we can do now is wait. If we get some rain before har­vest time, we will at least get part of the yield of olive oil we were ini­tially expect­ing. Otherwise, the olive dru­pes will remain dry inside with no juice to extract.”





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