Olive Oil Production in Portugal Set to Slump After Record Year

A combination of drought and many producers entering an ‘off-year’ will keep Portugal to around 100,000 tons of olive oil production in the 2022/23 season, according to the latest data.

Quinta d’Alva farm in Trás-os-Montes (Photo: Miguel Massa)
Aug. 29, 2022
By Daniel Dawson
Quinta d’Alva farm in Trás-os-Montes (Photo: Miguel Massa)

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Olive oil pro­duc­tion in Portugal is expected to fall to 100,000 tons in the 2022/23 crop year, accord­ing to Mariana Matos, the sec­re­tary-gen­eral of Casa do Azeite, a pro­duc­ers’ asso­ci­a­tion.

This drop is due to the fact that this is [an off-year in the olive trees’ nat­ural alter­nate bear­ing cycle], but also to the fact that this year was par­tic­u­larly dif­fi­cult due to drought, high tem­per­a­tures at the time of bloom­ing, in addi­tion to other adverse con­di­tions,” she told Olive Oil Times.

This year has been like the per­fect storm… The sharp increase in pro­duc­tion costs, as well as all the logis­ti­cal and sup­ply chain dif­fi­cul­ties, led to an increase in the price at ori­gin, which is affect­ing con­sump­tion.- Mariana Matos, sec­re­tary-gen­eral, Casa do Azeite

Last year, Portugal pro­duced a record-break­ing amount of olive oil, with pro­duc­tion fig­ures rang­ing from 206,000 to 230,000 tons. As a result, most pro­duc­ers expected to see some decline this year.

Compounding the impacts of the off-year’ is Portugal’s ongo­ing drought. The west­ern Iberian coun­try is on pace for its sec­ond-dri­est hydro­log­i­cal year (which runs from October to September) since records began in 1931, accord­ing to the Institute for the Sea and the Atmosphere. To date, just 419 mil­lime­ters of rain have fallen in the coun­try, less than half of what falls in a nor­mal year.

See Also:2022 Harvest Updates

Miguel Massa, the chief exec­u­tive of Porttable in Trás-os-Montes, told Olive Oil Times that he was antic­i­pat­ing a poor har­vest as a result of the drought. Production is quite reduced, and some peo­ple won’t even har­vest,” he said.

However, the lack of rain has not impacted all olive grow­ers or regions of Portugal equally. Larger high-den­sity (inten­sive) and super-high-den­sity (super-inten­sive) groves, vir­tu­ally of which are irri­gated, were sig­nif­i­cantly less affected by the drought.

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The vast major­ity of these groves are located in the olive oil-soaked south­ern region of Alentejo, which Matos pre­dicted would pro­duce 80,000 tons of olive oil dur­ing the com­ing har­vest.

Instead, tra­di­tional rain­fed groves, which make up about 30 per­cent of all Portuguese olive groves, are bear­ing the brunt of the drought.

The drought had a big neg­a­tive impact on the rain­fed olive groves,” Manuel Norte Santo, the sales man­ager at the Industrial and Commerce Society of Olive Oil, told Olive Oil Times. This dry period affected the plant cycle, threat­en­ing the devel­op­ment of the flow­er­ing and con­se­quent devel­op­ment of the fruit.”

In the north­ern region of Trás-os-Montes, the per­sis­tently dry weather has sparked a series of wild­fires and led local offi­cials to make irri­ga­tion a top pri­or­ity for the region’s farm­ers.

While few olive trees have been destroyed by the fires, which have scorched more than 100,000 hectares, local may­ors con­cluded at a joint press con­fer­ence that irri­ga­tion is cru­cial for the future of agri­cul­ture,” devel­op­ment of the econ­omy and fight against cli­mate change.

Matos agrees that increas­ing access to water resources is essen­tial for devel­op­ing the coun­try’s olive oil sec­tor.

Increasing irri­ga­tion infra­struc­ture and dams is essen­tial in Trás-os-Montes and across the coun­try, con­sid­er­ing the ongo­ing cli­mate change,” she said. As can be seen in the Alqueva dam region in Alentejo, the con­clu­sion of this infra­struc­ture allowed a huge increase in olive oil pro­duc­tion in Portugal, as well as other crops.”

However, Massa warned that the topog­ra­phy of Trás-os-Montes, with olive groves fre­quently located 400 meters above the near­est reser­voir or sup­ply of water, would make installing irri­ga­tion nearly impos­si­ble for small pro­duc­ers.

That’s some­thing that com­mon pro­duc­ers – peo­ple who don’t have their own brand – can’t afford to do,” he said.

Portugal’s his­toric drought and wild­fires may be the sto­ries cap­tur­ing inter­na­tional head­lines, but both Matos and Norte Santo warned that the sec­tor faces plenty of imme­di­ate and long-term chal­lenges.

This year has been like the per­fect storm, affect­ing not only pro­duc­ers but indus­try and com­merce as well,” Matos said. The sharp increase in pro­duc­tion costs, as well as all the logis­ti­cal and sup­ply chain dif­fi­cul­ties, led to an increase in the price at ori­gin, which is affect­ing con­sump­tion.”

Norte Santo added that prices of fer­til­izer and phy­tophar­ma­ceu­ti­cal prod­ucts had increased sig­nif­i­cantly this year. Regular sup­ply chain dis­rup­tions also led to short­ages of these cru­cial agri­cul­tural inputs in some cases.

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Harvesting olives in Trás-os-Montes (Photo: Miguel Massa)

On his farm, Massa said he has had trou­ble buy­ing glass bot­tles and paid higher prices for card­board, labels and basi­cally every­thing” as a result of infla­tion.

These short-term prob­lems – fueled by the Russian inva­sion of Ukraine and the clo­sure of some of the world’s largest ports due to China’s Zero Covid’ pol­icy – have exac­er­bated more long-term prob­lems fac­ing Portugal’s olive oil sec­tor.

Norte Santo iden­ti­fied a lack of agri­cul­tural labor­ers across Portugal as one of the stark­est chal­lenges fac­ing the entire agri­cul­tural sec­tor. He added this change in labor demo­graph­ics has par­tially fueled the coun­try’s rapid tran­si­tion to mod­ern groves.

We are see­ing a restruc­tur­ing of the olive groves in Portugal, where inten­sive and super inten­sive olive groves are replac­ing the usual tra­di­tional olive groves,” he said. This con­ver­sion, in addi­tion to many other fac­tors, is also due to the fact that pro­duc­ers are hav­ing dif­fi­culty find­ing teams to guar­an­tee their annual har­vest.”

Along with find­ing work­ers to har­vest the olives each autumn, Matos and Norte Santo warned that the mete­oric rise of olive oil pro­duc­tion in Portugal has not been accom­pa­nied by ade­quate invest­ments in waste removal and other com­ple­men­tary sec­tors to olive oil pro­duc­tion.

Another huge prob­lem that we are fac­ing in Portugal is the dif­fi­culty in dis­pos­ing of the olive pomace,” Norte Santo said. Last year, some Portuguese mills had to close for a rel­e­vant period because they did­n’t have any solu­tion to send the pomace.”

We have had the same extrac­tion and treat­ment struc­ture for pomace for over 10 years, but the pro­duc­tion of olive oil is increas­ing every year, so the plan­ning is not being done accord­ingly,” he added. This is a seri­ous prob­lem.”

To solve this emerg­ing chal­lenge, mill oper­a­tors will need to expand the capac­ity of exist­ing extrac­tors and ask for gov­ern­ment per­mis­sion to develop new ones.

This prob­lem became struc­tural and will have to be resolved quickly,” Matos said. Otherwise, we could face seri­ous prob­lems in the next big cam­paign in 2023/24.”

Once again, invest­ing in the infra­struc­ture to deal with pro­duc­tion byprod­ucts will be the tough­est for tra­di­tional grow­ers who do not ben­e­fit from the same economies of scale achieved by high-den­sity and super-high-den­sity pro­duc­ers.

This is a big chal­lenge that tra­di­tional olive groves will have to over­come, and the only solu­tion is to give more value to the prod­uct that comes from this type of plan­ta­tion and teach the con­sumer about the dis­tinc­tions of this olive oil,” Norte Santo said.

Another impor­tant chal­lenge is to sup­port tra­di­tional olive groves, not only for their pro­duc­tive role but also for its mul­ti­func­tional role, for the pro­tec­tion of tra­di­tional vari­eties, for its social role and in the pro­tec­tion of the land­scape,” Matos con­cluded.



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