Olive Fruit Fly Could Undermine Greek Olive Oil Production

The fruit fly threatens expectations of a bumper crop. Experts suggest a change in established practices of fighting the pest.

Olive fruit fly
By Costas Vasilopoulos
Dec. 5, 2022 16:52 UTC
Olive fruit fly

With the olive har­vest in full swing in Greece, the expected olive oil pro­duc­tion increase along with high pro­ducer prices, which remain steadily above €4.50 per kilo­gram of extra vir­gin olive oil, have raised pro­duc­ers’ hopes for a reward­ing crop this year.

However, the con­stant threat of the olive fruit fly has again emerged as a chal­leng­ing puz­zle for the coun­try’s olive oil sec­tor to piece together.

The annual pro­gram to con­tain the fruit fly in the coun­try’s pro­duc­ing areas has to move away from the state and go into the hands of farm­ers them­selves.- Vassilis Frantzolas, olive oil con­sul­tant

In the sum­mer, increased insect pop­u­la­tions were recorded in sev­eral areas across the coun­try.

Some late crop-dust­ing oper­a­tions to pre­vent fur­ther pest breed­ing occurred in sev­eral olive oil-pro­duc­ing regions in October, includ­ing parts of Crete and the Peloponnese penin­sula. However, the fly still causes anx­i­ety for pro­duc­ers.

See Also:Croatian Olive Grower Innovates to Overcome Drought, Pests

In the region of Ilia in west­ern Peloponnese, the fly has been detected pri­mar­ily in coastal pro­duc­ing areas and small olive groves, accord­ing to the local depart­ment of agri­cul­ture.

The depart­ment attrib­uted the fruit fly appear­ance to the com­bi­na­tion of tem­per­a­ture and humid­ity pre­vail­ing in the area this time of year. It warned pro­duc­ers to remain vig­i­lant and take all the nec­es­sary mea­sures to pro­tect the sea­son’s olive oil pro­duc­tion.

On the island of Lesbos, a meet­ing of local pro­duc­ers, agron­o­mists and rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the local admin­is­tra­tion on the fruit fly con­trol pro­gram failed to reach an agree­ment on the next steps required to mit­i­gate the threat of the fly to local olive oil pro­duc­tion.

According to the pro­duc­ers, around 40 per­cent of olives have been lost from the island’s olive trees this year due to extended fruit fly infes­ta­tion.

On the other hand, the admin­is­tra­tion’s agron­o­mists argued that almost a third of the island’s olive trees are of advanced age and should be renewed to become resis­tant to ill­nesses.

On Crete, where a bumper crop of more than 100,000 tons of olive oil is expected this year, the lack of work­ers has resulted in the olives being more sus­cep­ti­ble to attack by the fruit fly since the fruits remain exposed on the trees longer than usual.

As the har­vest unfolds, we see the worms [from the fruit fly breed­ing] left on the trac­tor trail­ers when the pro­duc­ers trans­fer their olives to the mill for pro­cess­ing,” said Yiannis Koukakis, a miller based near Chania.

We need work­ers to work in the fields,” he added, refer­ring to the scarcity of labor­ers in the area. There are peo­ple who want to work here, for exam­ple, civil ser­vants and oth­ers serv­ing in the armed forces, but the state does not allow them to get a sec­ond job legit­i­mately, and they have to work ille­gally to increase their income.”

In the nearby dis­trict of Apokoronas, the author­i­ties urged the local pro­duc­ers to har­vest their olives as soon as pos­si­ble to avoid any severe impact of the fruit fly on the qual­ity and quan­tity of the pro­duced olive oil.

Chemical analy­ses have shown that the acid­ity of the area’s olive oils has started to increase above nor­mal lev­els this sea­son.

See Also:In Greece, Millers Call for Subsidies to Soften Impact of Rising Costs

Meanwhile, the asso­ci­a­tion of Cretan agron­o­mists noted that the fly has become immune to exist­ing pes­ti­cides and asked the agri­cul­ture min­istry to make new pes­ti­cides avail­able to pro­duc­ers on Crete and across the rest of the coun­try.

The fight against the olive fruit fly is fac­ing many dif­fi­cul­ties the recent years, mainly due to the with­drawal of pre­vi­ously licensed active sub­stances, but also due to the resis­tance of the fruit fly to pyrethroid insec­ti­cides,” the asso­ci­a­tion wrote in a let­ter to the min­istry.

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Especially in some areas of Crete, the resis­tance is quite high,” they added. Consequently, it is imper­a­tive to increase the avail­able pes­ti­cides against the fly by eval­u­at­ing and licens­ing new active sub­stances.”

However, the estab­lished oper­a­tional pat­tern against the fruit fly in Greece is con­sid­ered inef­fi­cient by some experts.

The exist­ing leg­isla­tive frame­work per­tain­ing to bat­tling the olive fruit fly was intro­duced in 1976 with no sub­stan­tial improve­ment what­so­ever for almost 50 years,” the expert olive oil taster and con­sul­tant Vassilis Frantzolas told Olive Oil Times.

The annual pro­gram to con­tain the fruit fly in the coun­try’s pro­duc­ing areas has to move away from the state and go into the hands of farm­ers them­selves,” he added.

In Greece, the use of traps and exten­sive crop-dust­ing activ­i­ties against the olive fruit fly is reg­u­lated by the coun­try’s regional author­i­ties. Then, the actual field oper­a­tions are assigned to exter­nal oper­a­tors, with olive farm­ers con­tribut­ing to the ven­ture with a fee of 2 per­cent of the value of the pro­duced olive oil.

Frantzolas said that in other olive oil-pro­duc­ing European coun­tries, includ­ing Spain, Italy and France, olive oil pro­duc­ers receive data in real-time about the exist­ing cul­ti­vat­ing con­di­tions, includ­ing infor­ma­tion about man­i­fes­ta­tions of the fruit fly and other dis­eases of the olive tree and direc­tions on how to con­front them.

Even more, the crop-dust­ing oper­a­tions against the olive fruit fly in Greece rely on chem­i­cal pes­ti­cides, a prac­tice which is wrong by default,” he said.

Greece, being an E.U. mem­ber state, is obliged to apply the 2009/128 direc­tive on the sus­tain­able use of pes­ti­cides, tak­ing account of pre­cau­tion­ary and pre­ven­tive approaches before any spray­ing of pes­ti­cides,” Frantzolas con­cluded. This is sim­ply not the case in the coun­try.”



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