Pandemic and Weather Extremes Compound an Off-Year in Turkey

Bad springtime weather and logistic challenges have made what was expected to be a tough year even worse.
Mavras Olive Oil Company (Photo by Mehmet Taki)
Dec. 14, 2020
Daniel Dawson

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As the 2020 olive har­vest comes to a close, Turkish olive oil pro­duc­tion is expected to reach between 180,000 and 210,000 tons, accord­ing to esti­mates from Juan Vilar Strategic Consultants and the International Olive Council (IOC). Last year the coun­try pro­duced around 225,000 tons.

Scorching spring­time tem­per­a­tures fol­lowed by heavy rains severely dam­aged the olive crop and once again forced pro­duc­ers to har­vest ear­lier than nor­mal.

Just like any other indus­try, the Covid-19 pan­demic had an impact on our har­vest, espe­cially in the pro­duc­tion and organic cer­ti­fi­ca­tion processes.- Merve Doran, founder, Oleamea

The Covid-19 pan­demic com­pli­cated the har­vest for some pro­duc­ers, as new san­i­tary and social dis­tanc­ing mea­sures were intro­duced in groves and mills and local cur­fews came into effect.

This year has been excep­tion­ally chal­leng­ing due to cli­mate change and the pan­demic,” Ahat Caskurlu, the co-founder of Zeytín Oil, told Olive Oil Times. We not only had to maneu­ver around Covid-19 pro­tec­tion mea­sures like increased social dis­tanc­ing dur­ing pro­duc­tion and work­ing around local cur­few hours, but also had a major neg­a­tive impact from the heat­waves we faced last May.”

Caskurlu expects to pro­duce 25 tons of olive oil this year from his groves in Canakkale, at the very north­ern tip of the Anatolian penin­sula, and Aydin, in the cen­ter. Last year, Zeytín Oil pro­duced more than 30 tons.

Our olive flow­ers were severely dam­aged with the heat­waves and strong rain show­ers hence our yield dropped 20 to 30 per­cent,” he said.

With pre­dic­tions sug­gest­ing a yield up to 20 per­cent lower than last year, Ümmühan Tibet, the chair­woman of the board of Turkey’s National Olive and Olive Oil Council (UZZK), said the dif­fer­ence was mainly due to a major­ity of pro­duc­ers enter­ing the off-year of the olive tree’s alter­nate bear­ing cycle.

However, she acknowl­edged that cli­mate change was also mak­ing the har­vest more chal­leng­ing.

See Also: 2020 Harvest Updates

Unfortunately the olive oil pro­duc­tion of the pro­ducer coun­tries has started to fluc­tu­ate much more as a result of global cli­mate change in recent years,” she told Olive Oil Times. We were adversely affected by extreme weather, heat and drought dur­ing the flow­er­ing of the olive tree and fruit growth.”

Tibet still expects pro­duc­tion to con­tinue trend­ing upwards in Turkey as it has over the pre­vi­ous decade. Even in the worst-case sce­nario for this year’s har­vest, pro­duc­tion would be just 10-per­cent below the rolling five year aver­age. In the best case, it would exceed the rolling aver­age by nearly five per­cent.

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Mehmet Taki

Due to the increase in the num­ber of olive trees every year in our coun­try, our total olive pro­duc­tion is usu­ally between 1.5 mil­lion tons and two mil­lion tons,” Tibet said. Since the con­sump­tion of table olives is tra­di­tion­ally high in our coun­try, we use one-third of our olive fruit pro­duc­tion for table olives.”

As the fruit could not grow due to drought this year, the major­ity of the 1.35 mil­lion tons of fruit pro­duced will be used for olive oil pro­duc­tion,” she added. So we esti­mate nearly 200,000 tons of olive oil pro­duc­tion.”

The vast major­ity of Turkey’s olive oil pro­duc­tion takes place on the broad west­ern tip of the Anatolian penin­sula. Even though nearly 400 kilo­me­ters sep­a­rate the north­ern and south­ern shore­lines, chal­lenges cre­ated by the cli­mate was a con­sis­tent theme among pro­duc­ers.

In the vil­lage of Bozburun, at the very south­ern end of the penin­sula, Mustafa Birhan Hazer lamented the highly volatile tem­per­a­tures that have become increas­ingly fre­quent in the spring and started to coin­cide with the blos­som­ing of the olive flow­ers.

“[This year] is dou­ble last year’s har­vest,” the Bozelli founder told Olive Oil Times. However, this is not great at all. Climate change is prov­ing to be a real chal­lenge for us.”

Birhan Hazer said that he expected to pro­duce about seven tons of olive oil, which was twice as much as last year, but less than the 2018 yield by about one third.

This year, once again, we had extreme heat over 40 ºC in May for two weeks dur­ing bloom,” he said. And it sud­denly switched to freez­ing tem­per­a­tures for two nights. This of course neg­a­tively impacted our har­vest.”

While Tibet, of the UZZK, attrib­uted the alter­nate bear­ing of the olive trees for the major­ity of this year’s pro­duc­tion decrease, nowhere were the impacts of cli­mate change demon­strated bet­ter than in the groves of Nova Vera.

We were adversely affected by extreme weather, heat and drought dur­ing the flow­er­ing of the olive tree and fruit growth.- Ümmühan Tibe, chair­woman, Turkish National Olive and Olive Oil Council

We have two main cul­ti­vars at our groves which are Ayvalık and Trilye,” Bahar Allan, the owner of Nova Vera, told Olive Oil Times. For the con­ven­tion­ally planted Ayvalık cul­ti­var, peri­od­ic­ity [alter­nate bear­ing] is effec­tive and, because of this, we had a nearly 50-per­cent increase in pro­duc­tion com­pared to the pre­vi­ous year.”

However the major­ity of our pro­duc­tion is com­ing from our high-den­sity planted Trilye cul­ti­var and we had 30-per­cent fewer olives this year,” she added. The rea­son was not peri­od­ic­ity – it was mainly cli­mate change caus­ing heavy rains dur­ing the flow­er­ing period and drought.”

In spite of the cli­matic set­backs, Allan said she expects to pro­duce 90 tons of olive oil this year, up from the 70 tons pro­duced by Nova Vera last year.

See Also: The Best Olive Oils from Turkey

While the cli­mate of the Anatolian penin­sula is expected to grad­u­ally become hot­ter and drier, the impacts of the Covid-19 pan­demic have been more imme­di­ate.

Producers told Olive Oil Times that the pan­demic has sig­nif­i­cantly changed how they are doing busi­ness. These changes ranged from com­pli­cat­ing the logis­tics process of the har­vest to a small boom in online sales.

Just like any other indus­try, the Covid-19 pan­demic had an impact on our har­vest, espe­cially in the pro­duc­tion and organic cer­ti­fi­ca­tion processes,” Merve Doran, the founder and co-owner of Oleamea, told Olive Oil Times.

We had a case in which one of our mechanist’s fam­ily mem­bers tested pos­i­tive, so we had to work with one mech­a­nist for two-plus weeks,” he added. Also, we had to post­pone the fac­tory inspec­tion, which is part of the organic cer­ti­fi­ca­tion process, twice due to pos­i­tive cases within the com­pany that does the inspec­tion. This has post­poned their deliv­ery date for the organic cer­tifi­cate.”

Doran expects to pro­duce between 90 and 100 tons of olive oil this year, which is more than the com­pany pro­duced last year. He attrib­uted that increase to Oleamea’s new export con­tracts and grow­ing demand for olive oil in the United States.

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Allan, of Nova Vera, added that the pan­demic had increased her pro­duc­tion costs, but also boosted online sales.

We had many dif­fi­cul­ties estab­lish­ing our har­vest­ing teams and also for their trans­fers from and to the groves,” she said. Our man-hour costs have increased nearly 20 per­cent.”

Furthermore, cafes and restau­rants are one of our major sales chan­nels and their olive oil con­sump­tion has decreased almost 50 per­cent, mainly because of lim­i­ta­tions and lock­down,” she added. However, our direct sales via the inter­net have con­sid­er­ably increased and com­pen­sated this neg­a­tive impact.”

Burgeoning online sales were a con­sis­tent theme among pro­duc­ers dis­cussing the impacts of the coro­n­avirus. Tibet, of the UZZK, said that the pan­demic was chang­ing people’s eat­ing habits.

The cur­few and quar­an­tine imposed due to the pan­demic have changed the way of life of many of us, affected our eat­ing habits, and our habit of eat­ing out has been replaced by eat­ing at home,” she said. Turkish peo­ple started to con­sume more table olives and olive oil con­sump­tion increased by 25 per­cent in our coun­try dur­ing this period.”

Over the past decade, olive oil con­sump­tion in Turkey has steadily trended upwards. Even as the hos­pi­tal­ity and restau­rant sec­tor has suf­fered as a result of the pan­demic, pro­duc­ers are hope­ful that domes­tic con­sump­tion can fill the gap and fuel fur­ther increases.

This year’s har­vest is one of the bet­ter years,” said Mehmet Taki, the co-owner of Bata Tarim ve Gida Urunleri, which pro­duced about 26 tons of olive oil in spite of a dry sum­mer and autumn as well as delays caused by the pan­demic.

Our sales to hotels and restau­rants dropped by almost 70 per­cent,” he said. On the other hand, our direct sales to con­sumers almost dou­bled.”

On aver­age,” he con­cluded, I can’t com­plain.”


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