Olive Oil Production In Uruguay Set to Rebound

Production will not exceed the record highs of 2019 but is expected to reach 1,900 tons. Producers report that quality is as high as ever.
Photo: Asolur
Jul. 8, 2021
Daniel Dawson

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After Uruguay recorded one of its worst-ever har­vests in 2020, pro­duc­tion is expected to bounce back in 2021.

A com­bi­na­tion of many pro­duc­ers enter­ing an off-year in the olive tree’s alter­nate bear­ing cycle and spring­time frosts dur­ing the flow­er­ing sea­son fol­lowed by an excep­tion­ally dry sum­mer caused pro­duc­tion to slump to just 295 tons in the 2019/20 crop year.

We bet heav­ily on the early har­vest, which has been excel­lent. We pre­fer to sac­ri­fice quan­tity for qual­ity and are con­vinced that this is the way.- Gonzalo Aguirre, co-owner, Olivares de Santa Laura

This year, the weather was more favor­able, and many pro­duc­ers entered an on-year. With the vast major­ity of pro­duc­ers fin­ish­ing their har­vests in late June, pre­lim­i­nary esti­mates sug­gest Uruguay could have its sec­ond-high­est pro­duc­tion total ever.

Luckily, this year, the pro­duc­tion was a lot bet­ter than in 2020,” Martin Robaina, the pres­i­dent of the Uruguayan Olive Association (Asolur) and pro­ducer at Lote8, told Olive Oil Times. It was not as good as that of 2019, where we had our record har­vest of 2,500 tons, but we will be close.”

Based on pre­lim­i­nary esti­mates and con­ver­sa­tions with pro­duc­ers, Robaina esti­mated pro­duc­tion will reach 1,900 tons of olive oil.

Along with a higher yield of olives, pro­duc­ers from around the coun­try reported excel­lent qual­ity lev­els. According to Robaina, the over­whelm­ing major­ity of Uruguayan olive oil pro­duc­tion is graded as extra vir­gin.”

The har­vest has been very good in Uruguay,” Gonzalo Aguirre, the co-owner of Olivares de Santa Laura, told Olive Oil Times. We bet heav­ily on the early har­vest, which has been excel­lent. We pre­fer to sac­ri­fice quan­tity for qual­ity and are con­vinced that this is the way.”

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Photo: Gonzalo Aguirre

However, the pro­ducer, who is based in the north­east­ern province of Cerro Largo, added that one of the main chal­lenges he faces is find­ing con­sumers to pur­chase his extra vir­gin olive oils. This has been exac­er­bated by the Covid-19 pan­demic, which led to the clo­sure of the bor­ders in 2020 and dra­mat­i­cally decreased tourism.

Consumption of olive oil was affected in part by the clo­sure or reduc­tion of capac­ity in restau­rants and hotels,” he said. At the same time con­sump­tion in fam­i­lies increased con­sid­er­ably, peo­ple had more time to cook at home.”

According to Robaina, edu­cat­ing con­sumers about the health ben­e­fits and organolep­tic prop­er­ties of extra vir­gin olive oil is one of the main chal­lenges fac­ing the entire sec­tor.

We have to con­tinue try­ing to edu­cate Uruguayan con­sumers so that they know how to rec­og­nize what a good extra vir­gin olive oil is and opt for extra vir­gin oils from Uruguay,” he said.

On the oppo­site end of the coun­try from Olivares de Santa Laura, the pro­duc­ers behind O’33 told Olive Oil Times that they too had enjoyed a fruit­ful har­vest.

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Photo: Natalia Welker

It was a long har­vest,” Natalia Welker, the com­pany owner, told Olive Oil Times. 2021 was a har­vest with a lot of fruit… Regarding the qual­ity, it is excel­lent.”

While rural areas of Uruguay have been much less directly affected by the pan­demic, Welker said that the com­pany had com­plied with all pro­to­cols and suc­cess­fully man­aged the har­vest with­out sig­nif­i­cant inci­dents.

However, she said that dif­fi­culty import­ing goods – which has been exac­er­bated by the pan­demic glob­ally – is one of the main chal­lenges fac­ing her busi­ness.

We import sup­plies such as bot­tles and caps, and sup­pli­ers take a long time to meet our needs,” she said.

Just up the road from O’33, the pro­duc­ers behind Agroland S.A., which bot­tles its olive oil under the Colinas de Garzón brand and earned a Gold Award at the 2021 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition, also reported an excel­lent har­vest.

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It was a very good year, not a record like 2019, but a very good one,” Víctor Rodríguez, the company’s olive oil pro­duc­tion man­ager, told Olive Oil Times.

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Photo: Asolur

Just like the other pro­ducer, the Covid-19 pan­demic cre­ated plenty of stress for Rodríguez and his team but did not lead to any inter­rup­tions to the har­vest. However, for the agron­o­mist behind Uruguay’s sec­ond-largest pro­ducer, the country’s humid weather remains the biggest chal­lenge.

The other great chal­lenge that we face year after year is the cli­mate of Uruguay, which is very humid,” he said. This means that we are always mon­i­tor­ing the health of our plants. In addi­tion to this, we opt for an early har­vest, for two rea­sons, one for health and the other for the qual­ity of our prod­ucts.”

All the pro­duc­ers inter­viewed for this arti­cle said that they expect pro­duc­tion to decrease once again in 2022 as a result of pro­duc­ers once again enter­ing an off-year.

Robaina said one of the main projects of Asolur is to mit­i­gate the impacts of this nat­ural phe­nom­e­non on the trees and have Uruguayan pro­duc­ers achieve more con­sis­tent har­vests year in and year out.

We are try­ing to inves­ti­gate and to be able to have field man­age­ment that means that we do not have those dif­fer­ences in pro­duc­tion because that, of course, makes the activ­ity dif­fi­cult to sus­tain,” he said. The idea is to try to reduce this phe­nom­e­non so that the pro­ducer has fruit to har­vest every year.”


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