Olive Farming Around the 'Navel of the World'

After years of decline and neglect, olive farming and oil production are making a comeback in the historic Greek region.

Jan. 29, 2019
By Sofia Spirou - Agronews

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This year’s esti­mate for the olive pro­duc­tion of the plain of Delphi, which is named after the his­toric ora­cle of Apollo and thought by ancient Greeks to be the navel of the world, is rather dis­ap­point­ing.

When drought slashes yields, the own­ers of the olive groves are dis­ap­pointed and turn to urban jobs, which are more lucra­tive, result­ing in a large part of the olive grove, being neglected.- Elias Xiros, President of the Cooperative of Amfissa

Olive farm­ing, whose impor­tance to the local econ­omy is only sec­ond to tourism, has shown anaemic growth and the cur­rent esti­mate of 4,000 tons is just one-third of the poten­tial capac­ity of the region.

Despite being the third most exported vari­ety and a reg­is­tered Product of Designated Origin (PDO) the local olive known as Konservolia’ or Amfissa, named after the town perched on the ver­dant slopes of Mt Parnassus, was until recently shipped by the coop­er­a­tive in large bar­rels to for­eign des­ti­na­tions.

See Also: Olive Oil Production

Problems such as low pro­duc­tiv­ity, a lack of qual­ity con­trol, absence of pro­cess­ing facil­i­ties, the neglect and aban­don­ment of land and the lack of irri­ga­tion have accu­mu­lated and pre­sented obsta­cles hold­ing back devel­op­ment and threat­en­ing eco­nomic via­bil­ity of the old­est and sin­gle largest uni­fied olive grove in the coun­try.

However, things have started to look up in the past few years, in part due to the ini­tia­tive launched by the Cooperative of Amfissa to mod­ern­ize olive farm­ing through European and national pro­grams.

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These pro­grams are aimed at improv­ing the qual­ity of pro­duc­tion and upgrad­ing of the coop­er­a­tive’s facil­i­ties in order to help unleash the eco­nomic poten­tial of the olive grove of Delphi.

How Delphi got left behind

The decline in the pro­duc­tion of the PDO Amfissa’ olive started in the 1980s.

The olive grove has a strong pro­duc­tion capac­ity, but yields still depend on the weather and rain­fall, because unfor­tu­nately most of the olive groves are not irri­gated,” Elias Xiros, President of the Cooperative of Amfissa, said. When drought slashes yields, the own­ers of the olive groves are dis­ap­pointed and turn to urban jobs, which are more lucra­tive, result­ing in a large part of the olive grove, being neglected.”

Local experts point out that up to 30 per­cent of the olive grove is not cul­ti­vated sys­tem­at­i­cally, while more than 70 per­cent is not irri­gated.

Xiros also added: The nat­ural black olive of Delphi has spe­cial man­age­ment needs, it is a mature fruit and has to be trans­ported with great care because unlike green olives that are woody, its flesh is soft. For this rea­son, and because the price of the olives was not always attrac­tive, many grow­ers sold their olives to the presses to pro­duce olive oil.”

Smaller pack­ag­ing increases pro­ducer prices

The new invest­ment in the ultra-mod­ern facil­i­ties of the Cooperative of Amfiss, which have been in oper­a­tion since 2017, have cre­ated new prospects for the Amfissa olives.

Until 2017, the Konservolia’ olives were shipped in 150 kilo­gram bar­rels or 13 kilo­gram cans, with the pro­ducer price stand­ing at about €1.40 ($1.60) per kilo­gram.

However, with the new pack­ag­ing lines that are part of the pro­cess­ing unit, the Cooperative can now trade green or black olives in small pack­ages.

This year we expect to receive 800 to 900 tons in the new plants and we can pack 200 to 300 tons in a glass jar or plas­tic pack­ag­ing start­ing from 120 grams up to the size that the cus­tomer may require,” Xiros said. Standardization can raise the pro­ducer price to about €1.80 to €1.90 ($2.06 to $2.17) per kilo for mem­bers of the Cooperative.”

Improving pro­duc­tion step by step

Over the last decade, the Cooperative of Amfissa has been busy improv­ing farm­ing prac­tices and pro­cess­ing pro­ce­dures through national and European Union-funded projects, of which the most impor­tant was the three-year pro­gram car­ried out between 2015 and 2018 focus­ing on trace­abil­ity.

As shop­pers demand more infor­ma­tion about the food they buy, a pro­gram was launched that allows us to keep in touch with the new mar­ket needs and step up the effort of account­ing for each stage of pro­duc­tion of the olives we pro­duce,” Peggy Karageorgou, an agron­o­mist of the Cooperative who is respon­si­ble for the three-year pro­gram, said.

We cur­rently have records for each batch of olives we receive as well as for the tanks in which they are stored,” she added. At the pack­ag­ing stage we select and cre­ate records for the fruit as well as all inputs that are used in each pack­age. Thus, at any time, the Cooperative has access to infor­ma­tion regard­ing con­tents of each tank, and can, if nec­es­sary, trace the prod­uct down to the pro­ducer that sourced the olives. This means we have greater abil­ity to carry out more tar­geted qual­ity con­trols.”

Resources from the same pro­gram also were used to train and cer­tify around 580 mem­bers of the Amfissa Cooperative in good farm­ing prac­tices.

In addi­tion, the infra­struc­ture of the pro­cess­ing unit was upgraded and a color sep­a­ra­tor was acquired to improve qual­ity con­trol pro­ce­dures.

Irrigation work in progress

A major irri­ga­tion project, which is cur­rently under­way, is expected to fur­ther improve prospects of the olive grove of Delphi.

The project envis­ages under­ground pipelines of 105 miles, of which approx­i­mately 62 miles have already been installed, with two points of abstrac­tion from the Mornos pipeline to Amfissa and Chrysos.

The value of the project amounts to €20 mil­lion ($22.9 mil­lion) and there has been a delay of two years in its deliv­ery.

Following a mod­i­fi­ca­tion of the orig­i­nal study and the rel­e­vant con­tract, accord­ing to Vaggelis Katsagounos, the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Prefecture of Fokida, the project, which is co-funded by the EU, is sched­uled to be com­pleted by the end of 2019.

Olive Oil Times and the Greek pub­li­ca­tion Agronews are work­ing together to bring you agri­cul­tural news from Greece.


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