Olive Growing Starting to Take Root in Central Europe

As climate change makes Central European winters milder and drier, farmers in Austria and northeastern Croatia are beginning to plant olives.
(Photo: Agro Rebels)
By Nedjeljko Jusup
Apr. 12, 2024 00:05 UTC

On April 7th, the mer­cury hit 30 ºC in south­ern Austria, the ear­li­est that the Alpine nation has ever reached what the national weather ser­vice describes as a heat day.”

No one believed that I would suc­ceed.- Miro Mraz, Olive farmer in Zagorje, north­east­ern Croatia

Yet experts warn that this record could eas­ily be replaced by the end of the decade as cli­mate change results in higher tem­per­a­tures across Europe.

It’s get­ting hot­ter and drier, and by 2030, tem­per­a­tures in Austria could resem­ble today’s in parts of south­ern Europe,” said Daniel Rössler, Lukas Hecke and Markus Fink, the founders of Agro Rebels Agency.

See Also:Experts Back Olives in a Hotter, Drier World

The three co-founders agree the clock can­not be turned back on cli­mate change, but farm­ers can adapt. So, a few years ago, they started grow­ing Mediterranean fruit trees in Austria, includ­ing olives. The goal is to open up new sources of income for our farm­ers,” they said.

The three part­ners test these non-native fruits and veg­eta­bles in the field with sci­en­tists and grow them in col­lab­o­ra­tion with farm­ers. They even­tu­ally plan to sell the pro­duce under a sin­gle brand.

Their first prod­uct is table olives. In 2020, they planted 400 trees near the east­ern city of Mörbisch. The first crop of table olives was har­vested ear­lier this sea­son, and olive oil pro­duc­tion is planned for next year.

Before the Agro Rebels’ efforts, farm­ers in other parts of Burgenland, where Mörbisch is located, have been cul­ti­vat­ing olives for the past half-decade.

Reini and Angi Pieretti-Eder were among the first to start in 2018, and now they have more than 500 Leccino olive trees in Rust, north of Mörbisch.

The Italian expert who planted the trees explained to the Pieretti-Eders that this vari­ety would be ideal for Burgenland.

There are other olive pro­duc­ers besides the Pieretti-Eders, but there is still no mill for pro­duc­ing olive oil. The pair teamed up with Sabine Haider and Reinhard Pieretti-Eder to trans­port 131 kilo­grams of olives to the clos­est mill in Italy, which yielded 17 liters of olive oil.

The four grow­ers did not expect to make any money, let alone cover pro­duc­tion costs. Instead, they are proud to have proven the doubters wrong with their 17 liters of Austrian olive oil.

Meanwhile, 190 kilo­me­ters south in north­east­ern Croatia, cli­mate change has led another farmer to grow olives in Zagorje. No one believed that I would suc­ceed,” Miro Mraz said.

Less than two years ago, Mraz planted 30 Oblica, Casaliva and San Felice olive trees, which were cho­sen because they tol­er­ate cold weather.

By July 2023, the Oblica and Casaliva trees were full of fruit, and the first olives in Zagorje’s his­tory were har­vested in mid-October.

Mraz cel­e­brated the event with his fam­ily and friends. We picked 26 kilo­grams of beau­ti­ful and healthy fruit for pro­cess­ing into Zagorje’s first olive oil,” he said.

Similarly to the sit­u­a­tion in Austria, there is no mill in Zagorje. The near­est one was on the Adriatic island of Krk, more than 150 kilo­me­ters away.


Instead of trans­port­ing the olives to Krk, he trans­formed them using a machine that grinds corn into corn­meal and pressed the olive paste with a wine press. The unortho­dox process yielded 2.5 liters of vir­gin olive oil.

Mraz hopes for bet­ter results and has planted 63 new Leccino and Pendolino olive trees in the com­ing years.


Miro Mraz

He also plans to sur­round Zagorje’s first olive grove with a dry stone wall and build a stone house inside, pay­ing homage to Dalmatia, Croatia’s largest olive-grow­ing region.

Due to cli­mate change, Mraz is unlikely to be the only olive grower in north­east­ern Croatia in the future as win­ters become increas­ingly mild.

Away from Austria and Croatia, recent research from the University of Sassari demon­strates that olive cul­ti­va­tion is expand­ing faster in north­ern Italy than in other parts of the coun­try.

In 1992, olive cul­ti­va­tion was present in 54 of 107 agri­cul­tural dis­tricts of north­ern Italy. By 2018, the num­ber had increased to 81, a 49-per­cent increase.

By com­par­i­son, the num­ber of agri­cul­tural dis­tricts with olive cul­ti­va­tion in cen­tral and south­ern Italy increased by four per­cent and 19 per­cent, respec­tively.

While the olive grow­ing sur­face area was rel­a­tively low – just 0.2 per­cent – in north­ern Italy, this fig­ure increased by one per­cent from 1992 to 2018. Meanwhile, olive grove sur­face area decreased by 0.9 per­cent in cen­tral and south­ern Italy over the same period.

The research indi­cated that the trend is likely to con­tinue as the south of the coun­try becomes increas­ingly hot and dry due to the impacts of cli­mate change.


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