A sudden outburst of the fruit fly and other pathogens inflicted unexpected damage on the island's farms.
Anxiety has overwhelmed many olive oil producers in Crete as, contrary to some early predictions for a strong yield, this season’s harvest seems to head toward a poor production both in terms of quantity and quality.
I have never seen such a problematic olive oil crop in our area since my involvement with the sector back in 1995.
“The circumstances are terrible all over the island,” said Giorgos Andreadakis, head of the Cretan Association of Olive Oil Bottlers.
“It will be an achievement to produce 60,000 tons overall, and most of it will be of inferior quality,” Andreadakis added. “Once again producers will lose 30 to 40 percent of their production and, in advance, they will not really have any income since most of the fresh olive oil is defective and categorized as lampante oil of low value. We cannot even find the volume of quality olive oil we need to standardize.”
Myron Hilentzakis, the deputy director of the Agricultural Association of Heraklion, spoke of an unprecedented predicament for growers and producers.
“We had never before dealt with lampante olive oil and this is an extraordinary situation,” Hilentzakis said. “We have struggled for years investing in extra virgin olive oil, and now the fruit fly has caused the olives to fall on the ground and, even more, it has affected the acidity of the olive oil the remaining olives give, leading to a multilayered problem.”
Agriculturist Varvara Sfakianakis from the local Department of Agriculture at Heraklion told Olive Oil Times that the recent weather conditions are to blame for the ominous situation.
“Because of the warm and humid weather of the last two months, there was a sudden outbreak of the fruit fly and pathogens like the gloeosporium in our area,” she explained. “Before the harvest, we were expecting around 40,000 tons of olive oil from the region of Heraklion, but now we are not even close to this. Still, we have to wait for another month to have a complete picture of the olive oil yield.”
Sfakianakis continued, “Due to lack of resources there were some problems with the crop-dusting operations carried out in the summer to fight the fruit fly. On top of that, we observed that the fly has developed some sort of resistance to some pesticides used. In any case, the actual cause of the problem is climate change and the unusual conditions prevailing in the microclimate of our area.”
On the west side of Crete, Nektarios Paraschakis of the Agricultural Association of Chania described the situation to Olive Oil Times in its full dimension.
“Contrary to the last prosperous harvest season, this season is a tragic one so far,” he said. “Our mill has produced 150 tons of olive oil up to now, compared to 450 tons the same time period last season. And only 15 of the 150 tons are extra virgin olive oil.”
The reason for the disastrous crop is again no other than the fruit fly and other pathogens, Paraschakis told us.
“The temperature here is currently at 25°C (77°F), which is quite high for this time of the year and favors the olive tree pathogens,” he said. “So, there was a late manifestation of the fruit fly and other microbes that reduced the quantity and quality of the crop. Most of the olive oil produced in the area is of high acidity with defects and is categorized as lampante oil that will be sent to refineries for further processing. Quality olive oil this year in our area is produced only from some olive groves located on hill slopes.”
Paraschakis summoned the state to provide financial support for the damage and more means to cope with the fruit fly threat. He also pointed out that local growers and producers should be aware that, from now on and due to the novel circumstances shaped by the adverse weather, constant vigilance and care for the olive trees is required throughout the year for a substantial olive oil yield to become feasible.
“I have never seen such a problematic olive oil crop in our area since my involvement with the sector back in 1995,” Paraschakis revealed while ending the conversation. “I am an olive tree grower myself, and I am not sure if I will be able to get some good olive oil from my groves for my family.”