Olive Oil Production in Portugal Set to Rebound

Officials estimate Portugal will produce 140,000 to 150,000 tons of olive oil in the current crop year. Drought and labor shortages presented significant challenges.

(Photo: Julio Alves)
By Daniel Dawson
Oct. 16, 2023 17:28 UTC
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(Photo: Julio Alves)

As the olive har­vest gets under­way in Portugal, farm­ers and offi­cials antic­i­pate a slight pro­duc­tion rebound com­pared to last year but not a repeat of the record-high yield of the 2021/22 crop year.

Separate esti­mates from the European Union and Federation of the E.U. Olive Oil Industry (Fedolive) antic­i­pate the har­vest could reach 150,000 tons in 2023/24, about 20 per­cent higher than last year and nearly 12 per­cent above the five-year aver­age.

In the future, we will be able to sur­pass the record reached in the 2021 har­vest due to the increase in the area of mod­ern olive groves in hedgerows and because we have many new olive groves that are only now com­ing into pro­duc­tion.- Gonçalo Moreira, man­ager, Alentejo Olive Oil Sustainability Program

Officials from the Alentejo Olive Oil Sustainability Program, a group of 20 pro­duc­ers from Portugal’s largest olive-grow­ing region, esti­mated that national pro­duc­tion would be closer to 140,000 to 145,000 tons.

Farmers attrib­uted the pro­duc­tion rebound to many of the coun­try’s groves enter­ing an on-year’ in the nat­ural alter­nate bear­ing cycle of the olive tree.

See Also:2023 Harvest Update

Additionally, north­ern Portugal expe­ri­enced a rainy win­ter, alle­vi­at­ing some of the worst symp­toms of last year’s his­toric drought. This was fol­lowed by a hot and dry sum­mer, lim­it­ing the emer­gence of pests, includ­ing the olive fruit fly.

The irri­gated olive groves are pro­gress­ing well and have good prospects for the 2023 cam­paign,” Gonçalo Moreira, man­ager of the Alentejo Olive Oil Sustainability Program, told Olive Oil Times.

The pro­duc­tion capac­ity was con­di­tioned by suc­ces­sive frosts at the end of win­ter and begin­ning of spring and then by high heat dur­ing the flow­er­ing period, which led to prob­lems with flow­er­ing and con­se­quently with olive pro­duc­tion,” he added. This is com­bined with the impact of drought on dry olive groves and hail­storms at the end of sum­mer in the north­ern region of Portugal.”

The com­bi­na­tion of much-needed rain and extreme weather events has resulted in a mixed har­vest for pro­duc­ers in the north­ern Trás-os-Montes region, which is dom­i­nated by tra­di­tional olive groves.

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Finding enough workers is a perennial challenge of harvesting olives in the traditional groves of Trás-os-Montes. (Photo: Julio Alves)

This har­vest is going to be a mixed one in terms of yields, in our grove as in the rest of the coun­try,” Julio Alves, founder of Trás-os-Montes-based Quinta dos Olmais, told Olive Oil Times. We have plots with a very rea­son­able amount of olives and other sec­tors where the trees have almost no olives.”

I am not a fan of pre­dic­tions because just one bad day can ruin an entire year of hard work,” he added. So far, this year’s har­vest is look­ing much bet­ter than last year, but frankly, this is not that hard, as last year was the worst year ever recorded at our farm.”

Alves said that his groves, oth­ers in Trás-os-Montes and other parts of north­ern Portugal ben­e­fited from the wet win­ter. The ample rain­fall brought some relief after the hell­ish sum­mer” of 2022, which low­ered expec­ta­tions for the cur­rent har­vest as scorch­ing tem­per­a­tures dam­aged new shoots on the trees.

However, based on his obser­va­tions, he was skep­ti­cal that Portuguese pro­duc­tion would reach 150,000 tons.

On the oppo­site side of Portugal, in the south­ern Algarve region, Pedro Esperança, the chief of oper­a­tions at Viveiros Monterosa, told Olive Oil Times that the com­pany was enter­ing the final week of the har­vest after begin­ning ten days ahead of sched­ule.

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Producers in Alentejo expect a significant production increase compared to last year after a wet winter refilled reservoirs. (Photo: Pedro Esperança)

In quan­tity, we have a sig­nif­i­cant increase com­pared to last year, which was expected with an on-year,’ ” he said. Quality is very high, we have a cool­ing sys­tem that allows us to do the extrac­tion process under low tem­per­a­tures, pests and dis­ease lev­els were very low, and the tim­ing of har­vest was close to per­fec­tion.”

However, Esperança said the lack of rain dur­ing the spring meant pro­duc­tion could not rebound fully. Furthermore, unprece­dent­edly high autumn tem­per­a­tures at the start of the har­vest posed a sig­nif­i­cant logis­ti­cal chal­lenge.

You could see with your eyes fruit col­laps­ing when exposed to direct sun,” he said. As a result, the com­pany worked tire­lessly to move the olives straight to the air-con­di­tioned mill as soon as they were har­vested.

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However, Esperança said high tem­per­a­tures sig­nif­i­cantly low­ered the emer­gence of pests and dis­eases. Climate change actu­ally helps on this sub­ject with irri­gated olive trees and a cooled extrac­tion sys­tem,” he added.

Esperança agreed that Portugal could pro­duce 150,000 tons of olive oil this year and antic­i­pated pro­duc­tion to increase as more grow­ers irri­gate their groves and new pro­duc­ers plant high-den­sity and super-high-den­sity plan­ta­tions.

Still, he said the coun­try’s increas­ingly hot and dry cli­mate would require the gov­ern­ment to find new solu­tions to drought.

It’s dra­matic; gov­ern­ments need to find a way to store water when it rains and dis­trib­ute it to the farm­ers,” Esperança said. Farmers need to have the view and capac­ity to con­vert or install irri­gated olive orchards so we will not expe­ri­ence what south­ern Spain is.”

Directly north of the Algarve is Alentejo. According to Moreira from the Alentejo Olive Oil Sustainability Program, Alentejo was respon­si­ble for 92 per­cent of Portuguese olive oil pro­duc­tion in the pre­vi­ous crop year.

In 2023 the drought sit­u­a­tion in south­ern Portugal has not improved, which is a prob­lem for the unir­ri­gated olive grove,” he said. In the regions north of Alentejo, the rain was reg­u­lar and with nor­mal val­ues for the sea­sons, which guar­an­teed water for the reg­u­lar cycle of the olive trees.”

In Alentejo, olive oil pro­duc­tion is mainly car­ried out in irri­gated olive groves, which allows olive trees to have access to water at cru­cial moments for their devel­op­ment,” Moreira added. Irrigated olive groves are more resis­tant to drought, and Alqueva guar­an­tees inter­an­nual reg­u­lar­ity, which is why it would be impor­tant to develop other projects like Alqueva in Portugal to mit­i­gate the impact of cli­mate change.”

Manuel Norte Santo, the export man­ager of Establecimiento Manuel Silva Torrado, also located in Alentejo, told Olive Oil Times that he is expect­ing a medium har­vest, which will exceed last year’s total but fall short of the coun­try’s record-break­ing yield two years ago.

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Amid scorching autumn temperatures, milling at night ensures olives are cool when they are harvested. (Photo: Establecimiento Manuel Silva Torrado)

We already started the har­vest here,” he said. The rain took some stress off the tree, and it seems that it delayed the har­vest a lit­tle, but soon after the rains in September, high tem­per­a­tures appeared in October, which accel­er­ated the process again. These tem­per­a­tures also caused the appear­ance of flies, which accel­er­ated the pick­ing of some pro­duc­ers.”

While Norte Santo said that rain­fall had been scarce in south­ern Portugal over the win­ter and spring, he said enough had fallen to replen­ish reser­voirs and other water reserves, which allowed the com­pany to irri­gate the groves at cru­cial moments in olive devel­op­ment.

Norte Santo believes that pro­duc­tion in Portugal this year could reach the esti­mated 150,000 tons but agreed with Esperança that olive oil yields would con­tinue to trend upward.

Every day, we see the appear­ance of more olive groves in our coun­try, mainly in the Alentejo and a huge con­ver­sion of tra­di­tional olive groves to inten­sive and super-inten­sive plan­ta­tions,” he said. Portugal is devel­op­ing and opti­miz­ing its agri­cul­tural tech­niques and meth­ods, achiev­ing excel­lent pro­duc­tion results in its olive groves.”

Moreira went one step fur­ther and argued that Portugal could soon rou­tinely exceed its record-high har­vest in 2021/22 as more super-high-den­sity groves are planted.

In the future, we will be able to sur­pass the record reached in the 2021 har­vest due to the increase in the area of mod­ern olive groves in hedgerows and because we have many new olive groves that are only now com­ing into pro­duc­tion, allow­ing us to increase the amount of olive oil pro­duced in Portugal,” he said.

Alongside this pro­duc­tive growth, we have a major tech­no­log­i­cal mod­ern­iza­tion not only in olive groves, with increases in pro­duc­tiv­ity, but mainly in mills with an increase in olive oil extrac­tion capac­ity and its qual­ity,” Moreira added.

In Northern Alentejo, Ana Cardoso and Paolo Morosi of Monte do Camelo agreed that this year’s har­vest would be bet­ter than last year’s. Still, the drought had pre­vented their groves from reach­ing their full poten­tial.

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As intensive olive groves change the face of Alentejo, traditional producers worry for their future. (Photo: Ana Cardoso and Paolo Morosi)

Compared to the 2022 cam­paign, we expect a suf­fi­cient, though not opti­mal, yield this year,” they told Olive Oil Times. There is uneven pro­duc­tion on our grove, which means this will not be a year of excep­tional har­vest.”

The rea­son for that might be, once again, related to the cli­mate episodes of heavy frost in late win­ter, drought, extreme heat and wind that we have been expe­ri­enc­ing,” Cardoso and Morosi added.

While the coun­try’s tran­si­tion to mod­ern olive groves will increase annual pro­duc­tion, tra­di­tional pro­duc­ers such as Cardoso and Morosi are con­cerned about how the change will impact the envi­ron­ment and the eco­nom­ics of tra­di­tional groves.

Small-medium scale pro­duc­ers, in addi­tion to hav­ing to cope with drought and other chal­lenges, find them­selves forced to con­tend with the ever-increas­ing num­ber of super-inten­sive groves, both envi­ron­men­tally and eco­nom­i­cally,” they said.

Back in Trás-os-Montes, Alves said one of his most sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenges is find­ing enough work­ers to har­vest his tra­di­tion­ally planted groves.

Our major prob­lem con­tin­ues to be the lack of man­power; it has become sys­temic to farm­ing and, in our region, gets worse every year,” he said. I can’t fore­see a solu­tion in the near future as most of our work is sea­sonal and does not attract peo­ple to a region that each year sees more cuts in gov­ern­ment spend­ing on edu­ca­tion and health­care.”

In the groves of Viveiros Monterosa, Esperança also cited labor as one of his com­pa­ny’s most sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenges. Along with find­ing enough work­ers, he said the turnover meant that work­ers have to be trained each year, and there is no accu­mu­la­tion of knowl­edge.

On sell­ing, the biggest chal­lenge is global uncer­tainty, which leads to mar­ket uncer­tainty,” Esperança said. Clients are not buy­ing or pay­ing less; they sim­ply are divid­ing usual orders to reduce the risk of not sell­ing exist­ing stock.”

Meanwhile, Norte Santo said the impacts of infla­tion have con­tin­ued to drive up pro­duc­tion costs.

The sit­u­a­tion of pro­duc­tion costs con­tin­ues to be very con­cern­ing; prices through the year con­tin­ued to rise, and there is no sign of a decrease,” he said.

The pro­duc­ers have to make a great finan­cial effort to ensure that noth­ing is miss­ing from their pro­duc­tion regimes, but some­times this is not pos­si­ble, and they must dis­pense with some of the treat­ments or pro­ce­dures, which hurts the pro­duc­tion of their olive grove,” Norte Santo con­cluded.


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