The effects of cli­mate change are being felt by olive oil pro­duc­ers around the globe. Though many coun­tries expe­ri­enced a rebound year in 2019, fore­casts for con­tin­ued extreme weather are fore­bod­ing for pro­duc­ers con­cerned about drought, hail, rain and sea-level rise, and the issues they pose to olive-grow­ing oper­a­tions.

This has been a very dry grow­ing sea­son since we had lit­tle rain dur­ing win­ter and spring and soils are dry.- Roman Rivera, ELAIA

In 2018, Italy, Greece and other Southern European olive-oil-pro­duc­ing nations expe­ri­enced erratic weather events that were linked to cli­mate change. Summer droughts, late frosts and strong winds cre­ated short­ages in olive pro­duc­tion. Italy’s pro­duc­tion was down 57 per­cent as a result.

A lack of rain­fall this year cre­ated issues in Spain, where total olive oil pro­duc­tion is expected to decrease by 44 per­cent.

Roman Rivera, man­ag­ing direc­tor of Portugal’s ELAIA, said the dry grow­ing sea­son hit Portugal as well.

“This has been a very dry grow­ing sea­son since we had lit­tle rain dur­ing win­ter and spring and soils are dry. In areas where irri­ga­tion is avail­able it has been pos­si­ble to irri­gate the olive groves,” he said.

Rivera added that despite the dry grow­ing sea­son, Portuguese pro­duc­ers will do alright, though not as well as other regions in Europe.

“The Portuguese grow­ing sea­son is going bet­ter than last year, although not as good as the news we hear from Italy or Greece,” Rivera said in September. “In our groves in Spain we are going to have a good crop, even though Spain is not expect­ing a good cam­paign due to lack of rain and last year’s great har­vest.”

Mariana Matos, sec­re­tary-gen­eral of Casa do Azeite, Portugal’s olive oil trade asso­ci­a­tion added that the olive tree is built to with­stand drought, which accounts for a har­vest that will still meet, and per­haps, exceed expec­ta­tions.

But the drought isn’t the only obsta­cle cli­mate change throws in the way of olive oil pro­duc­ers. In a white paper on the effect of cli­mate change on European agri­cul­ture, the European Union (EU) states the evi­dence of cli­mate change is “solid and real” and cre­ates changes in rain­fall, tem­per­a­ture fluc­tu­a­tions through­out the year, storms, floods and heat­waves.

Tedi Chiavalon of Croatia’s OPG Chiavalon, said the grow­ing sea­son was “chal­leng­ing” due mostly to high tem­per­a­tures dur­ing the bloom­ing period.

“Some cul­ti­vars on some posi­tion suf­fered a lot so, in our region, we are expect­ing 30 per­cent fewer olives than last year,” Chiavalon said.

Temperature fluc­tu­a­tions aren’t new to Croatian pro­duc­ers, Chiavalon said, but they seem to be more fre­quent because of cli­mate change and they can be dev­as­tat­ing.

“We had huge colds in win­ter so our region lost great parts of its pro­duc­tion capac­i­ties,” he said.

Temperatures have risen 1.4°C since pre-indus­trial times, accord­ing to the EU, which could reduce rain­fall, spur more dra­matic weather events, and put stress on aquifers, irri­ga­tion sys­tems and exist­ing water sup­plies.

As a result, the EU rec­om­mends olive grow­ers and other agri­cul­tural pro­duc­ers adjust the tim­ing of their farm­ing oper­a­tions.

Some grow­ers admit­ted to mov­ing har­vest times for­ward or back a week or more and, in Egypt, bloom­ing was delayed by 15 days from a cold win­ter, and a hot sum­mer caused olives to ripen too fast, accord­ing to Roba Ashraf of Wadi Food.

The EU also sug­gests adapt­ing crops with biotech­nol­ogy, inte­grat­ing pest man­age­ment prac­tices and improv­ing soil man­age­ment — all costly mit­i­ga­tion mea­sures for grow­ers who are already oper­at­ing on low mar­gins.

And as the European sea­son winds down, the impacts of cli­mate change on olive grow­ing are being felt in the Southern hemi­sphere. Gabriel Guardia, man­ager at Argentina’s Olivícola Laur, said cli­mate change has “def­i­nitely” affected grow­ing oper­a­tions in the coun­try, and in Mendoza, where Laur’s oper­a­tions are based.

“The drought, the lack of pre­cip­i­ta­tion have affected the cul­ti­vars in our coun­try,” Guardia said. “The qual­ity is strongly affected by hail and the lack of rain and pre­cip­i­ta­tion that Mendoza suf­fers. While hail affects the qual­ity itself, the lack of pre­cip­i­ta­tion does not allow the cor­rect growth of the olives.”

Though revers­ing the effects of cli­mate change will take a global effort, luck­ily the EU sug­gests agri­cul­tural pro­duc­ers, includ­ing olive oil pro­duc­ers, can be part of the solu­tion.

“Agriculture can also help to pro­vide solu­tions to the over­all cli­mate change prob­lem by reduc­ing emis­sions,” the European Commission wrote recently, “and by seques­ter­ing car­bon while not threat­en­ing viable food pro­duc­tion.”




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