Olive Production Center of Gravity Moves Eastward

Ample rain and mild temperatures resulted in bumper crops in the Eastern Mediterranean. Meanwhile, drought and scorching heat saw olive oil yields evaporate in the west.

Messenia, Peloponnese Greece
By Daniel Dawson
Dec. 12, 2022 14:56 UTC
Messenia, Peloponnese Greece

The 2022 olive har­vest is in full swing in the north­ern hemi­sphere and has been full of sur­prises.

Western European and North African coun­tries that suf­fered from record-break­ing droughts and swel­ter­ing heat­waves all have reported sub­stan­tial pro­duc­tion declines.

Meanwhile, pro­duc­ers in the Middle East are report­ing record-high or near-record har­vests, par­tially attrib­uted to plen­ti­ful rain­fall at timely moments dur­ing olive tree devel­op­ment and mild spring and autumn tem­per­a­tures.

See Also:2022 Harvest Updates

Easily the biggest sur­prises of the har­vest come from Turkey and Spain. Officials antic­i­pate a record-smash­ing 400,000-ton har­vest in the for­mer, while the lat­ter is set for its low­est har­vest in nearly a decade.

Along with eclips­ing pre­vi­ous records, this har­vest tem­porar­ily places Turkey as the sec­ond-largest olive oil-pro­duc­ing coun­try behind Spain.

However, Turkey is far from the only coun­try in the Eastern Mediterranean antic­i­pat­ing a bumper crop. Producers in Greece, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria expect boun­ti­ful har­vests.

Conversely, on the west­ern end of the basin, pro­duc­ers in Algeria, France, Italy, Morocco, Portugal and Tunisia are sim­i­larly brac­ing for poor har­vests.

Harvest esti­mates for the 2022/23 crop year ana­lyzed by Olive Oil Times indi­cate that pro­duc­tion in the Western Mediterranean will be sig­nif­i­cantly lower than last year and well below the rolling five-year aver­age.

Olive Oil Times esti­mates that these six coun­tries in the Western Mediterranean might com­bine to pro­duce 1.46 mil­lion tons of olive oil this year, well below the 2.32 mil­lion tons pro­duced by the same bloc in 2021/22 and the 2.27-million-ton rolling five-year aver­age.

Western Mediterranean
2022/23 est. (t)
2021/22 (t)
5‑year avg. (t)
Algeria
30,000
98,0000
94,800
Italy
220,500
315,000
311,500
Morocco
156,000
200,000
169,000
Portugal
100,000
120,000
119,120
Spain
750,000
1,300,000
1,373,280
Tunisia
200,000
240,000
257,000
Total
1,456,500
2,273,000
2,324,700

On the other hand, five coun­tries in the Eastern Mediterranean – Greece, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria (the lat­est fig­ures for Israel and Palestine were unavail­able at the time of writ­ing) – might com­bine to pro­duce 881,000 tons in the cur­rent crop year.

Conversely, this fig­ure sig­nif­i­cantly exceeds the 602,000 tons pro­duced in the last crop year and the rolling five-year aver­age of 648,300 tons.

Eastern Mediterranean
2022/23 est. (t)
2021/22 (t)
5‑year avg. (t)
Greece
300,000
225,000
261,200
Jordan
30,000
22,000
24,600
Lebanon
26,000
21,500
19,200
Syria
125,000
105,500
118,500
Turkey
400,000
227,500
224,800
Total
881,000
601,500
648,300

While it may be tempt­ing to con­clude that the cen­ter of grav­ity in the olive-grow­ing world is mov­ing east, the real­ity is a bit more com­plex.

Experts who mon­i­tor global olive oil pro­duc­tion believe that this year’s bumper crops across the Eastern Mediterranean and the sub­stan­tial drop in the west is par­tially coin­ci­den­tal and partly the result of this year’s unusual cli­mate.

The mild and wet weather in the Eastern Mediterranean that many grow­ers credit with help­ing olive trees pro­duce abun­dant fruit is widely con­sid­ered an anom­aly. Overall, the aver­age annual tem­per­a­ture in the Middle East is ris­ing twice as fast as the global aver­age.

According to research from the Italian Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Development (ENEA), a 1.8 ºC increase in aver­age global tem­per­a­tures above the pre-indus­trial aver­age would result in sub­stan­tial decreases in Middle Eastern and North African olive pro­duc­tion from 2041 to 2050 rel­a­tive to the 1961 to 1970 aver­age.

On the other hand, pro­duc­tion in Turkey and Europe would be far less affected, with some coun­tries pro­jected to expe­ri­ence steady pro­duc­tion or even slight increases based on a 1.8 ºC tem­per­a­ture rise sce­nario.

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Water stress is also expected to become worse across the Middle East. According to the World Resources Institute, Israel, Lebanon, Palestine and Jordan are among the six most water-stressed coun­tries and states on Earth.

Many other major Mediterranean olive oil-pro­duc­ing coun­tries are also expected to expe­ri­ence high, though less extreme, lev­els of water stress.

While olive oil pro­duc­tion in Israel, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria is likely to regress to the mean next year when a num­ber of the olive groves in these coun­tries enter an off-year’ in the alter­nate bear­ing cycle of the olive tree, Turkey will likely sus­tain its upward pro­duc­tion trend.

Experts par­tially attrib­uted the country’s record-break­ing har­vest to sus­tained efforts to plant 68 to 96 mil­lion trees since 2007. This year was the first in which many of these trees entered matu­rity.

In the Western Mediterranean, tem­per­a­tures also are expected to rise faster than the global aver­age.

Exorbitantly high tem­per­a­tures across Western Mediterranean olive groves in May and June dam­aged some trees dur­ing the blos­som­ing phase, result­ing in lower fruition lev­els.

The hot spring was fol­lowed by sus­tained drought. Europe expe­ri­enced its most severe drought of the past 500 years. Growers in North Africa expe­ri­enced a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion.

Furthermore, water short­ages com­pounded the impacts of the drought and forced many trees to drop or des­ic­cate their olives to save water.

However, mete­o­rol­o­gists at AccuWeather, a weather data and tech­nol­ogy com­pany, pre­dicted that Portugal, Spain, France, Italy and the Balkan Peninsula would all receive plenty of rain and snow this win­ter.

While the pre­cip­i­ta­tion is unlikely to elim­i­nate the water deficits cre­ated by the drought, olive trees and grow­ers may be in a bet­ter posi­tion to cope with another hot and dry sum­mer than they were after the abnor­mally dry win­ter and spring expe­ri­enced this year.

Away from the cli­mate, the type of olive groves pre­dom­i­nant in each coun­try is also expected to impact pro­duc­tion fig­ures.

Western Mediterranean coun­tries, includ­ing Portugal and Algeria, are expected to see pro­duc­tion rise steadily in the long run due to efforts to plant more trees at higher den­si­ties.

High-den­sity (inten­sive) and super-high-den­sity (super-inten­sive) olive groves lower pro­duc­tion costs and, when man­aged well, mit­i­gate the impacts of the nat­ural alter­nate bear­ing cycle of the olive tree due to con­sis­tent prun­ing and a steady stream of fer­ti­ga­tion at the most crit­i­cal points in tree and drupe devel­op­ment.

As a result, coun­tries with higher per­cent­ages of these groves are likely to see steady pro­duc­tion increases with fewer cli­mate-related dips and lim­ited effects from off-years.’

The afore­men­tioned ENEA research also indi­cated that coun­tries with high-den­sity and super-high-den­sity olive groves would see lim­ited pro­duc­tion decreases or even mod­est increases with 1.8 ºC of warm­ing.

Production will likely con­tinue to rise steadily in many Western Mediterranean coun­tries where these types of olive groves are more com­mon.

In the Eastern Mediterranean, Turkey and Egypt (where har­vest data was also unavail­able for 2022) are the main coun­tries grow­ing olive trees inten­sively on a large scale.

While Turkey is the excep­tion to long-term olive oil pro­duc­tion trends in the Eastern Mediterranean, Italy is sim­i­larly an anom­aly to Westen Mediterranean pro­duc­tion trends.

The unabated spread of Xylella fas­tidiosa, a deadly olive tree bac­te­ria, and a grow­ing empha­sis on qual­ity over quan­tity have changed the country’s fun­da­men­tal pro­duc­tion par­a­digm.

Production is likely to recover from this year’s mea­ger yield but is unlikely to reach the heights of the early 2000s when 600,000 tons of olive oil pro­duc­tion was the norm.

Based on the pre­vail­ing cli­matic and agri­cul­tural trends, the out­sized role of Eastern Mediterranean olive oil pro­duc­tion com­pared to the Western Mediterranean appears to be an anom­aly in 2022/23.

Indeed, some experts antic­i­pate that organic and tra­di­tional olive groves will steadily move north as North Africa and Southern Europe become hot­ter and drier.

With the heads of France’s lead­ing cham­pagne houses buy­ing land in the south of England, it may not be long before lead­ing olive oil pro­duc­ers begin to fol­low suit.


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