`French Olive Oil Producers Going Organic - Olive Oil Times

French Olive Oil Producers Going Organic

Oct. 29, 2010
Alice Alech

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By Alice Alech | Reporting from Vidauban, France

Jean Marie Guerin is a pas­sion­ate man when it comes to his organic olives. Not only is he pas­sion­ate, he is proud to be rec­og­nized as an organic olive oil pro­ducer. His olive oil, pro­duced in France, has the national AB” logo for organic prod­ucts — agri­cul­ture biologique — which is admin­is­tered by the State.

How did he get that recog­ni­tion?

He con­verted his 17 acre olive oil plan­ta­tion, Domaine de la Pardiguière to bio farm­ing in 2000. Located in the heart of the Provence in Le Luc, Guerin decided to con­vert the plan­ta­tion to bio farm­ing in 1987 but, as Bio” reg­u­la­tions stip­u­lated a three year wait, he had to farm under bio con­di­tions for three years
before his olives could be clas­si­fied as organic.

Although France pro­duces much smaller quan­ti­ties of olive oil than other coun­tries, con­trol meth­ods are very strict. Yet oil pro­duc­tion is increas­ing with grow­ers striv­ing to cul­ti­vate good qual­ity olives and there is an increas­ing num­ber of pro­duc­ers con­vert­ing to organic agri­cul­ture, like Jean Marie Guerin.

L’association Françaises Interprofessionnelles de l’olive (AFIDOL), the offi­cial French Association of pro­duc­ers of olives and olive oil, reported that France pro­duced 7,000 tons of olive oil in French mills dur­ing the period 2008/2009; com­pared to 4,672 tons for the period

Olive oil cul­ti­va­tion takes place in only eight of the sun­ni­est regions of France. The Provence Alps-Cote‑D’azur region of France alone
pro­duced 4,649 tons, or about two-thirds, of the olive oil for the period.

Olive oils from the Provence gained recog­ni­tion from Institut National de L’origine et de Qualité (INAO) in 2007. This AOC French cer­tifi­cate is a guar­an­tee that the olive oil pro­duced here is of high qual­ity and comes only from the Provence.

On AOC labels you might also see details of the olive; fruité vert, fruité mûr or fruité noir indi­cates the type of aroma, fla­vor and fruiti­ness.

Even though all olive oil pro­duc­ers face the same threats in their olive groves such as the olive oil fly (Bactrocera oleae), dif­fer­ent sets of pro­duc­tion stan­dards exist for pro­duc­ers with the AOC label and those con­verted to organic fam­ing. Guerin was able to resolve the prob­lem of the olive fly with­out using pes­ti­cides.

I am lucky,” he said, to be iso­lated from other orchards. My domaine is right out in the coun­try, far from any pol­lu­tion. I don’t have as many flies as the other grow­ers.”

Guerin does a bit more than rely on luck. He sus­pends Ammonium Sulphate crys­tals traps on his trees to lure the female flies. With one trap fit­ted to each of my 3,000 trees this is expen­sive and I do need to sur­vey the traps care­fully but it works really well and I don’t need any pes­ti­cides or weed killers”, he said.

He uses an organic fer­til­izer from a cereal source on his soil and removes all weeds and shrubs around the trees by hand.

To be totally organic, the entire pro­cess­ing of the olives, includ­ing crush­ing clean­ing and fil­ter­ing, must be done in thor­oughly cleaned equip­ment. Guerin does not have a mill on his plan­ta­tion so has to reserve a mill for his olives mak­ing sure that the clean­ing pro­to­col is respected.

Standards are high in organic farm­ing. At one ran­dom con­trol ses­sion, exam­in­ers col­lected around 25 kilos of olives from dif­fer­ent areas of his farm. The olives were tested at a cer­ti­fied lab­o­ra­tory for 83 dif­fer­ent norms before he obtained his license for organic olive pro­duc­ing, a nerve-wrack­ing time for any­one await­ing approval.

He grows six dif­fer­ent types of olives and pro­duces six cor­re­spond­ing extra vir­gin olive
oils. In organic pro­duc­tion there must be no mix­ing of dif­fer­ent vari­eties.

This is why they come to me,” he explained. Customers who are seri­ous about buy­ing organic know that my oils are pure and totally organic,” he added. Customers are treated to an olive oil tast­ing ses­sion before they buy at his plan­ta­tion.

Robert Giraudeau, another olive oil pro­ducer lives in Vidauban, also in the Provence area. He’s been cul­ti­vat­ing olives in his two- acre olive grove for over fif­teen years now and is also drawn to organic farm­ing.

This is only his first year in con­ver­sion to organic but his enthu­si­asm is obvi­ous. Organic olive oil cul­ti­va­tion imper­a­tive for the future; I have been cul­ti­vat­ing under organic con­di­tions for 15 years now,” he said.

Giraudeau deals with the olive fly dif­fer­ently. He plants Inule Visqueuse which acts as a botan­i­cal insec­ti­cide in his orchard. The inula pro­duces a yel­low flower which hosts a par­a­site (lar­vae of flies) which is itself par­a­sitized by a small wasp. That in turn kills the lar­vae of the olive fly cre­at­ing an organic olive oil chain

Giraudeau likes his olives to be fruity. We pick them when they are green and are often one of the first to start pick­ing.” he explained. He takes his pro­duce to the mill in nearby Flayosc and col­lects his oils later. His bot­tled pure vir­gin olive oil has AOC recog­ni­tion at present.

I hope to invest in my own mill one day he said. Then I will be totally organic.”

Besides respect­ing the envi­ron­ment, organic olive oil pro­duc­ers are respond­ing to a demand. Public opin­ion that organic food is health­ier than con­ven­tional is strong and con­tin­ues to grow through­out.


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