Oleocampo's 3,500 Members Overcome Harvest Challenges with Quality Intact

Farmers in the massive Jaén-based cooperative sacrificed yield for a tenth straight year of award-winning quality.

Oleocampo is a cooperative in Jaén, the world's olive oil capital. (Photo: Oleocampo)
By Paolo DeAndreis
Feb. 7, 2024 15:13 UTC
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Oleocampo is a cooperative in Jaén, the world's olive oil capital. (Photo: Oleocampo)

In the province of Jaén, sit­u­ated in the heart of Andalusia, a large com­mu­nity of small farm­ers devoted to tra­di­tional cul­ti­va­tion demon­strates resilience in the face of a chal­leng­ing olive har­vest.

We are expe­ri­enc­ing much more heat than in the past, and we are see­ing sig­nif­i­cantly less rain,” Luis Viedma, the com­mer­cial direc­tor of Oleocampo, told Olive Oil Times. As these con­di­tions per­sist, olive groves are under con­sid­er­able stress.”

We main­tain con­stant com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the farm­ers before, dur­ing and after the sea­son. Ultimately, the coop­er­a­tive belongs to them. These 3,500 farm­ers own the com­pany.- Luis Viedma, com­mer­cial direc­tor, Oleocampo

Oleocampo, a coop­er­a­tive known for con­sis­tently pro­duc­ing award-win­ning extra vir­gin olive oil, com­bines almost 11,000 hectares of olive groves cul­ti­vated by about 3,500 olive farm­ers.

Its sig­na­ture Picual mono­va­ri­etal earned a Gold Award at the 2023 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition, its ninth con­sec­u­tive award.

See Also:Producer Profiles

Though the coop­er­a­tive has been around since 1994, it has been boosted by five olive oil milling com­pa­nies join­ing its ranks over the past decade, incor­po­rat­ing their machin­ery, skills and tra­di­tion to the coop­er­a­tive.

At this time of year, in mid­win­ter, we are expe­ri­enc­ing tem­per­a­tures of 24 ºC, which are almost pre-sum­mer lev­els,” Viedma said. The drought has taken a toll on the region. The reser­voirs are down by 60 per­cent.”

Reservoir lev­els have dipped so low that the pres­i­dent of the Andalusian gov­ern­ment has warned the provinces of Málaga, Seville and Córdoba will face severe water restric­tions this sum­mer if they do not receive at least 30 days of rain before then.

Oleocampo is cop­ing with the harsh cli­matic con­di­tions that have sig­nif­i­cantly reduced olive pro­duc­tion over the last two sea­sons in Andalusia, the world’s largest olive oil-pro­duc­ing region.

The har­vest has not gone well,” Viedma said. At the start of October, when the new sea­son began, offi­cial esti­mates fore­casted about 750,000 to 780,000 tons of olive oil for Spain. We are now prob­a­bly head­ing in that direc­tion, but we encoun­tered prob­lems with yield at the begin­ning.”

profiles-the-best-olive-oils-production-europe-oleocampos-3500-members-overcome-harvest-challenges-with-quality-intact-olive-oil-times

Over the past decade, five local mills have joined Oleocampo, bringing their modern equipment and expertise with them. (Photo: Oleocampo)

However, oth­ers have warned that olive oil pro­duc­tion in Spain’s 2023/24 crop year may only reach 700,000 tons, slightly exceed­ing the 664,000 tons of the pre­vi­ous crop year.

Like many pro­duc­ers in the region, the oil con­tent in the fruits at the begin­ning of the sea­son was lower than expected.

We knew that work­ing with two, three, or even five per­cent­age points less in yield would sig­nif­i­cantly reduce the final amount of olive oil,” Viedma said. In the end, we man­aged to see good results.”

Still, the tur­moil in the mar­ket and the ris­ing prices of all grades of olive oil, includ­ing lower grades such as lam­pante, affected the deci­sions of some local small olive oil pro­duc­ers.

If you offer a grower €7 or €8 per kilo­gram for lam­pante, it’s a price that might dis­cour­age them from main­tain­ing the qual­ity of their pro­duc­tion,” Viedma said, sug­gest­ing that record-high prices might prompt some small farm­ers to col­lect olives later in the sea­son for lam­pante pro­duc­tion.

Lampante olive oil, tra­di­tion­ally har­vested at the end of the sea­son from olives on the trees and even those that may have fallen to the ground, requires sig­nif­i­cant refin­ing before it is safe for human con­sump­tion.

On the other hand, the oper­at­ing costs for pro­duc­ing extra vir­gin olive oil are con­sid­er­ably higher, as olives har­vested for the high­est grade of olive oil must be done early from care­fully selected fruit and milled the same day.

profiles-the-best-olive-oils-production-europe-oleocampos-3500-members-overcome-harvest-challenges-with-quality-intact-olive-oil-times

Many of Oleocampo’s 3,500 members farm traditional groves, though some are transitioning to high-density. (Photo: Oleocampo)

Moreover, the low oil con­tent in the olives prompted some farm­ers to delay har­vest­ing in hopes of gain­ing yield with a late har­vest, a choice that can also impact the final qual­ity of the fruit.

This sce­nario unfolds as we report a 50 per­cent drop in over­all num­ber of olives com­pared to the pre­vi­ous har­vest, which was already a bad one,” Viedma said.

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In the face of these chal­lenges, sus­tain­abil­ity and bio­di­ver­sity are increas­ingly viewed as valu­able strate­gies to mit­i­gate the impact of cli­mate change.

We work with our farm­ers to encour­age them to enhance their farm­ing activ­i­ties, adopt­ing sus­tain­able prac­tices while pre­serv­ing the soil, as demon­strated by Olivares Vivos,” Viedma said.

Olivares Vivos is an exten­sive project study­ing olive grove bio­di­ver­sity to find ways to prof­itably and sus­tain­ably farm olives and pro­tect the nat­ural habi­tats of other endemic species in Andalusia.

In Oleocampo, we also encour­age farm­ers who have the abil­ity to tran­si­tion from tra­di­tional olive groves, with an aver­age of about 100 trees per hectare, to inten­sive [high-den­sity] orchards while safe­guard­ing soil health,” Viedma said.

The coop­er­a­tive offers farm­ers year-round sup­port, includ­ing expert teams ana­lyz­ing the trees through­out the sea­son and advis­ing on prun­ing and other agri­cul­tural tech­niques.

We main­tain con­stant com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the farm­ers before, dur­ing and after the sea­son,” Viedma said. Ultimately, the coop­er­a­tive belongs to them. These 3,500 farm­ers own the com­pany.”

While some in the sec­tor worry that high prices might hurt con­sumers, Viedma believes most peo­ple are increas­ingly aware that high-qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oil is not a cheap com­mod­ity.

profiles-the-best-olive-oils-production-europe-oleocampos-3500-members-overcome-harvest-challenges-with-quality-intact-olive-oil-times

Producers in Andalusia expect another disappointing harvest after the first olives picked in the autumn had low levels of oil accumulation. (Photo: Oleocampo)

The upside is that today, we see prod­ucts priced at €10 per liter,” he said. Consumers are highly engaged with extra vir­gin olive oil and its qual­ity, becom­ing increas­ingly aware of its health ben­e­fits.”

Furthermore, extra vir­gin olive oil prices are expected to remain high for a few years, as the out­put for the com­ing years is likely already sold,” he added. With these prices, farm­ers with high-den­sity groves will ben­e­fit sig­nif­i­cantly from economies of scale.”

Indeed, Viedma said that he believes high prices will also ben­e­fit olive farm­ers with tra­di­tional groves.

Even tra­di­tional farm­ers will find them­selves in a posi­tion to rely on num­bers that are finally mak­ing sense,” he said.

As for the future, we can­not con­trol the weather, but we can man­age the dam­age that crops might inflict on the ground and even work towards higher pro­duc­tion vol­umes and less fluc­tu­a­tion in yields year over year,” Viedma con­cluded.



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