Pests Plague Wild Olives on Croatian Island as Producers Remain Steadfast

The olive borer, fly and moth have damaged olive trees on the island of Pag. Producers insist they will still manage to craft award-winning oils.
Pag, Croatia
Jan. 10, 2022
Nedjeljko Jusup

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The oil from this year’s har­vest of wild olives on Croatia’s Lun penin­sula will not be sen­sa­tional.

There was no real har­vest at all, and the lit­tle fruit that was har­vested is not of the high­est qual­ity,” said Želimir Badurina, a suc­cess­ful olive grower and owner of a local oil mill on the island of Pag, with notice­able sad­ness in his voice.

In the spring, Badurina enthu­si­as­ti­cally accepted an invi­ta­tion to pro­duce oil from the wild olives at the north­ern tip of Pag and send them together with oils from Dalmatia to the 2022 edi­tion of the NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition.

Pag, located about five kilo­me­ters off the coast of cen­tral Croatia, is famous for its sheep cheese and is home to some of Europe’s old­est olive trees.

See Also:Producers in Istria Brace for a Disappointing Harvest

Badurina and other local pro­duc­ers believe the oil from the wild trees is not ade­quately val­ued out­side of Croatia and are work­ing together to change this.

Badurina is one of the founders of the Lun Olive Cooperative, which, with the sup­port of the city of Novalja and the local tourist board, man­ages the Lun Olive Gardens as a tourist des­ti­na­tion.

Lun olive groves cover about 400 hectares and com­prise more than 80,000 trees of the indige­nous Oblica vari­ety, grafted on the wild sub­strate of the Olea oleaster line. Badurina claims that the old­est olive tree on Lun is 2,000 years old.

Ivica Vlatković, pres­i­dent of the Zadar County Olive Growers Association, said the grove is a rar­ity not only on Pag and Croatia but in all of Europe. There are not many wild olives in their nat­ural envi­ron­ment that remain intact in the Mediterranean.

Both men hope to pro­mote this lit­tle-known fact to help turn Pag into a tourist des­ti­na­tion renowned for its unique extra vir­gin olive oils.

Vlatković believes the first step in doing so is to send local extra vir­gin olive oils to the NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition, which will pro­vide them with a large and diverse audi­ence.

If the olives are prop­erly har­vested and processed, and the qual­ity of the oil is pre­served, that oil could become a sen­sa­tion of the NYIOOC, and thus the demon­strate the value of the Lun penin­sula as an olive-grow­ing cul­tural asset,” he said.

According to Tatjana Klepo, a researcher at the Croatian Agency for Agriculture and Food, the Oblica olives from Lun have a diverse and com­plex geneal­ogy: They rep­re­sent one of the two wild olive genomes iden­ti­fied in Croatia.

The fruit from this sub-cul­ti­var, called Luna-Lastovo, are small. Between 15 and 20 kilo­grams of the fruits are required to pro­duce one kilo­gram of oil. Vlatković believes that the result­ing oils have a unique sen­sory pro­file and plenty of healthy prop­er­ties as a result of the ter­roir.

He and Badurina planned to send three dif­fer­ent oils from the Lun penin­sula to the NYIOOC: one made from the fruits of wild olives, the sec­ond pro­duced from a Corsican vari­ety grafted on a wild sub­strate and the third from the local olives, also grafted on a wild sub­strate.

See Also:Award-Winning Producers on Šolta Prepare for Modest Harvest

However, the 2021 har­vest has not unfolded on Pag with­out its chal­lenges. The sea­son was going well at first, but local grow­ers quickly encoun­tered prob­lems in the flow­er­ing and fer­til­iza­tion phase.

The strong heat prac­ti­cally burned the flower and fer­til­iza­tion went wrong, so some of the fruits that sur­vived the heat­stroke began to get sick,” Badurina said. These were leafy’ fruits that turned black and fell over time.”

As one prob­lem does not come alone, the old Lun olive groves were also vis­ited by pests – olive fruit flies and olive bor­ers,” he added. There is no fruit that is healthy and with which we can make one strong and top-qual­ity oil.”

The prob­lems with bor­ers and flies began imme­di­ately after fer­til­iza­tion when the fruits were the size of wheat grains. Fruits dam­aged by the olive borer, which nor­mally feeds on the olive pits, turned black and fell over time. The fruit that sur­vived has been vis­i­bly deformed.

After the olive bor­ers, a ter­ri­ble fly attack fol­lowed. By August, one trap was catch­ing 100 flies per day. Badurina said the mil­lenary olive grove in Lun was con­t­a­m­i­nated with pests.

He added that in Croatia, con­ven­tional meth­ods of pest con­trol have failed. The only time the trees are spared from the attacks is when the proper cli­matic con­di­tions occur – high tem­per­a­tures with low humid­ity – which he said have not hap­pened in the past three years.

Local grow­ers argue that ster­il­ized male flies should be pro­duced in lab­o­ra­to­ries and released through­out the olive groves. As a result, the eggs laid by female flies would not develop the lar­vae that destroy the fruit.

Apart from ster­il­ized males, pro­tec­tion against olive moths is pos­si­ble only with drones due to the inac­ces­si­bil­ity of the ter­rain. Badurina believes that the use of drones could effec­tively mon­i­tor the entire Lun penin­sula.

But one drone costs about €30,000,” he said. We have the will, we have the knowl­edge, but we do not have the mate­r­ial means.”

Badurina and other olive farm­ers hope to receive assis­tance from the gov­ern­ment to buy the drones and pro­tect the olives. Despite the chal­lenges, he still hopes to send oils to com­pete.

We are not giv­ing up on New York,” he said. Everything is only being extended for next year.”


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