Mounting Concerns in Greece as Harvest Nears

The impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic and persistently low olive oil prices remain the biggest worries for producers.
By Costas Vasilopoulos
Aug. 31, 2020 10:57 UTC

The per­sis­tent novel coro­n­avirus has cast its shadow on the upcom­ing har­vest­ing sea­son in Greece, spread­ing anx­i­ety among grow­ers and pro­duc­ers.

Apart from shak­ing up the agri­cul­tural sec­tor of the coun­try, the pan­demic has brought along travel restric­tions and local quar­an­tines, threat­en­ing the avail­abil­ity of for­eign work­ers at har­vest time.

We are wor­ried how the har­vest is going to unfold. Most work­ers come from the Balkan coun­tries and we do not cur­rently know if they will show up this year and how their health is going to be checked and ver­i­fied.- Dimitris Andriotis, olive oil exporter

We trade olive oil from every cor­ner of Greece, and the next sea­son is a big mys­tery to us,” Dimitris Andriotis, an olive oil exporter from Corfu, told Olive Oil Times. From what we know so far, Greece will pro­duce around 200,000 tons of olive oil, but we are wor­ried about how the har­vest is going to unfold.”

Most work­ers come from the Balkan coun­tries and we do not cur­rently know if they will show up this year and how their health is going to be checked and ver­i­fied,” he added. There will likely be some health pro­to­cols for Covid-19, but no one has yet informed us about any­thing.”

See Also:2020 Harvest Updates

One of the first ter­ri­to­ries in need of sea­sonal work­ers is Chalkidiki, where 10,000 labor­ers are required to har­vest the expected crop of more than 120,000 tons of green table olives start­ing in late September.

In response to the demand of local asso­ci­a­tions to act before any short­age of man­power ruins the crop, the min­istry of agri­cul­ture has allowed local pro­duc­ers to hire for­eign work­ers at will, bypass­ing the per-acre limit of sea­sonal employ­ees farm­ers could hire.



In Peloponnesus, the Mycenaean-based olive oil pro­ducer and exporter, Ioannis Kampouris, is con­cerned with the pandemic’s mul­ti­level effects on the olive oil sec­tor of Greece in addi­tion to the unre­solved issue of the flat­tened prices of olive oil.

Covid-19 brings anx­i­ety to Greek exporters of olive oil over an uncer­tain future,” Kampouris told Olive Oil Times. The cri­sis of the pan­demic will neg­a­tively affect the demand for olive oil and fur­ther nail the pro­ducer prices at low lev­els.”

Traders from Italy and Spain cur­rently scan the mar­ket to buy olive oil due to the low prices and a likely sur­plus of olive oil will put more pres­sure on the mar­ket,” he added. There is also doubt whether work­ers from Greece and abroad will be avail­able at har­vest time due to the pandemic’s restric­tions.”

Kampouris also expects a pros­per­ous crop in terms of the qual­ity of olive oil but an aver­age out­put in terms of quan­tity.

Crop-dust­ing oper­a­tions con­tinue and many pro­duc­ers are opti­mistic about [obtain­ing] olive oil of good qual­ity,” he said. However, the May heat wave affected the flow­er­ing of the olive trees so the vol­ume of the olive oil pro­duced will be on the low side.”


Salvation Olive Oil

Further south in Crete, in the sun-soaked Messara area near Heraklion, pro­duc­ers are opti­mistic about the new season’s yield of olive oil and more wor­ried about the avail­abil­ity of labor­ers than the coro­n­avirus-related health issues in the field.

The sea­son looks good so far,” local pro­duc­ers told Olive Oil Times. There are some occur­rences of the fruit fly and the pes­ti­cide appli­ca­tions are con­tin­u­ing, but it is still too soon to know if the fly is going to be a prob­lem.”

We mostly hire labor­ers from Albania, but we are not sure if they will come due to the travel restric­tions and the fear of the virus,” they added. The olive grove is a work­place where work­ers keep their dis­tance by default due to the nature of the job involved, so if we man­age to get the work­ers we need for the har­vest, we do not think that any prob­lems will occur.”

The pro­duc­ers fur­ther noted that the pan­demic may force some natives to return and work in the olive groves to make ends meet after the clo­sure of many busi­nesses a few months ago.

Greeks do not work in the fields any­more, but per­haps because of the clo­sure of the hotels and restau­rants the pre­vi­ous time, there will be some work­ers from around here look­ing for some extra income,” they said.


In the east­ern island of Lesvos, some pro­duc­ers focus more on the con­tin­u­ing decline of the island’s olive oil sec­tor than the reper­cus­sions of the pan­demic itself.

I do not think that the pri­mary sec­tor is sig­nif­i­cantly affected by the coro­n­avirus,” Michalis Veloutsos, from the Agricultural Association of Petra in the north of the island, told Olive Oil Times. Since the yield of olive oil is lim­ited in recent years, we har­vest the olives our­selves with­out any work­ers from abroad.”

Veloutsos explained that the biggest issue is the trans­form­ing micro­cli­mate of the area, and new strate­gies are required to get the sec­tor back on track.

The prob­lem is the chang­ing cli­mate con­di­tions that dete­ri­o­rate the qual­ity of our olive oil,” he said. The cli­mate here becomes more and more trop­i­cal, with high tem­per­a­tures dur­ing the day and high lev­els of humid­ity dur­ing the night that break’ the olive trees and favor the fruit fly.”

The olive oil indus­try of Lesvos is on a declin­ing path,” he added. Farmers together with bureau­crats must devise new ways to save the sec­tor, prob­a­bly by employ­ing novel tech­no­log­i­cal solu­tions. The way we did things in the past years is not valid any­more.”

Veloutsos also said that last sea­son their asso­ci­a­tion sub­si­dized the pro­duc­ers for every kilo­gram of olive oil they made, in order to help them cover the loss from the low prices of olive oil.

I won­der why such a big gap exists between pro­ducer prices and the prices of the olive oil on the shelves and who reaps the dif­fer­ence,” he said. This is a ques­tion that no one can answer.”


Related Articles