Producers in Uruguay See Awards Fueling Exports, Local Olive Oil Culture

Uruguayans turned heads at the 2023 World Olive Oil Competition, setting their sights on export markets and homegrown appreciation.

The 2023 harvest gets underway in March in the groves of Olivares de Rocha. (Photo: Nuevo Manantial)
By Daniel Dawson
Jan. 15, 2024 14:54 UTC
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The 2023 harvest gets underway in March in the groves of Olivares de Rocha. (Photo: Nuevo Manantial)

Uruguay’s two largest olive oil pro­duc­ers are com­ing off a superb 2023 and look­ing ahead to 2024.

Maldonado-based Agroland and Rocha-based Nuevo Manantial pro­duced more than half of the small South American country’s olive oil yield while com­bin­ing to earn two Gold Awards and a Silver Award at the 2023 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition.

In mar­kets like the United States, Uruguay is known for meat, dairy prod­ucts and grains, but not for olive oil. These awards help us estab­lish our­selves as an olive oil brand.- Victor Rodriguez, head of pro­duc­tion, Agroland

Agroland, which pro­duced the Colinas de Garzón brand, earned a pair of Gold Awards for its medium-inten­sity blends. Meanwhile, Nuevo Manantial earned a Silver Award for its Olivares de Rocha brand, which is also a medium blend.

For us, who are in a very small coun­try, hav­ing this inter­na­tional recog­ni­tion is very good,” Victor Rodriguez, the head of pro­duc­tion for Agroland, told Olive Oil Times. It fills us with pride and opens a path for us to any mar­ket we may want to enter.”

See Also:An Award-Winning Finish to A Fruitful Harvest in The Southern Cone

According to its olive sec­tor cen­sus pub­lished in December 2023, the Uruguayan Ministry of Ranching, Agriculture and Fisheries said the coun­try pro­duced about 2,047 tons of extra vir­gin olive oil in the 2022/23 crop year. Of that total, Agroland and Nuevo Manantial were respon­si­ble for 1,200 tons.

While the har­vest fell sig­nif­i­cantly below the orig­i­nal esti­mate of a record-high 3,000 tons, it exceeded the pre­vi­ous yield of 1,544 tons pro­duced in the 2021/22 crop year.

The two com­pa­nies are respon­si­ble for most Uruguayan exports, ship­ping their oils to neigh­bor­ing Brazil and, more recently, the United States.

While the lat­est data have not yet been pub­lished, the Ministry of Ranching, Agriculture and Fisheries said the coun­try exported 530 tons of extra vir­gin olive oil val­ued at $2.4 mil­lion between March 2022 and April 2023.

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Nuevo Manantial’s modern mill in Rocha is the largest in Uruguay. (Photo: Nuevo Manantial)

Due to the pre­vi­ous crop year’s bumper har­vest, which ended in early August, exports are expected to increase.

According to Rodriguez, win­ning awards at the NYIOOC helped put Uruguay, which has only been pro­duc­ing olive oil com­mer­cially for 20 years, on the world map.

In mar­kets like the United States, Uruguay is known for meat, dairy prod­ucts and grains, but not for olive oil,” he said. These awards help us estab­lish our­selves as an olive oil brand, know­ing that we come from a coun­try not known for olive oil pro­duc­tion.”

Along with help­ing the brand stand out in fledg­ling export mar­kets, Rodriguez said the awards also help encour­age Uruguayans to pur­chase and con­sume locally-pro­duced extra vir­gin olive oil.

A 2022 study from the Ministry of Ranching, Agriculture and Fisheries found that annual olive oil and olive pomace oil con­sump­tion sits around 1,700 tons – about 500 grams per capita per annum – of which 40 per­cent is locally pro­duced and 60 per­cent is imported.

The awards are a way to encour­age con­sump­tion of locally-pro­duced olive oil, let­ting the Uruguayan con­sumers know that this national pro­duce is of very high qual­ity,” he said.

Many olive oils imported from Europe arrive in Uruguay in less-than-ideal con­di­tions, hav­ing spent at least a month cross­ing the trop­ics and equa­tor inside metal ship­ping con­tain­ers. If the exporter has not paid extra for a cli­mate-con­trolled con­tainer, the oil inside has almost cer­tainly been dam­aged by expo­sure to high tem­per­a­tures.

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According to a rep­re­sen­ta­tive from a well-known European olive oil exporter, tem­per­a­tures can exceed 60 ºC for mul­ti­ple weeks in non-cli­mate-con­trolled con­tain­ers that are trav­el­ing dur­ing the sum­mer or through the trop­ics.

Nationally-pro­duced olive oils have almost cer­tainly been stored in supe­rior con­di­tions to any­thing that is imported from Europe,” Rodriguez said.

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He believes that edu­ca­tion is also key to cul­ti­vat­ing a national olive oil cul­ture, applaud­ing the efforts of Asolur, the national pro­ducer asso­ci­a­tion, to do just that.

He cited olive oil-spe­cific aisles in sev­eral national super­mar­ket chains, which have been demon­strated to increase sales, and olive oil-spe­cific trade events as a few edu­ca­tional efforts start­ing to bear fruit.

Chefs and nutri­tion­ists go to these events and talk about the health ben­e­fits of olive oil and how to cook with olive oil, empha­siz­ing that it is not just for salad,” Rodriguez said. The chal­lenge is to carry out cam­paigns to edu­cate peo­ple about the con­sump­tion of olive oil and the ben­e­fits it has.”

Along with encour­ag­ing domes­tic con­sump­tion, Rodriguez said one of the most con­sis­tent chal­lenges fac­ing pro­duc­ers is how to grow healthy olives in Uruguay’s humid cli­mate.

In Uruguay, there is a lot of humid­ity. As a result, many dis­eases and types of fun­gus pro­lif­er­ate. To com­bat these and pre­vent them from dam­ag­ing the olives and, there­fore, the oil, we need to spray the trees,” he said. However, we have to be very care­ful to make sure there is no residue on the olives when they are har­vested and turned into olive oil.”

See Also:Producer Profiles

This means the final phy­tosan­i­tary appli­ca­tion must occur more than 40 days before the har­vest to ensure the chem­i­cals have dis­si­pated before the olives are picked, washed and milled. Additionally, pro­duc­ers look­ing to export to the United States have a lim­ited list of chem­i­cals approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

According to Rodriguez, the stakes are high; if any exported extra vir­gin olive oil tests pos­i­tive with resid­u­als of a non-approved phy­tosan­i­tary prod­uct, the com­pany will have dif­fi­culty get­ting per­mis­sion to export to the U.S. again. This is the biggest chal­lenge that we have every year since we want to cap­ture mar­ket share in the United States,” he said.

profiles-the-best-olive-oils-production-south-america-producers-in-uruguay-see-awards-fueling-exports-local-olive-oil-culture-olive-oil-times

Rocha is Uruguay’s second-largest olive growing region. (Photo: San Antonio Studio)

Looking ahead to 2024, observers expect the com­ing har­vest to be lower than the pre­vi­ous one due to the nat­ural alter­nate bear­ing cycle of the olive tree.

Olive trees always have alter­nate bear­ing years,” Rodriguez said. What we can do as a com­pany to mit­i­gate drop off is to prune right away. As soon as the har­vest fin­ishes, we prune the olive trees so they can con­cen­trate their energy on pro­duc­ing fruit for next year.”

Along with prun­ing, Rodriguez said pro­vid­ing the trees with the nec­es­sary nutri­ents also ensures that the alter­na­tion between on-years’ and off-years’ is as low as pos­si­ble. To do this as effi­ciently as pos­si­ble, Agroland keeps track of how much fruit each tree bore.

If we know that a tree yielded 40 kilo­grams on year, the agron­o­mists know how many grams of fer­til­izer to use to pro­vide the tree with the nutri­ents it needs to pro­duce this quan­tity again,” Rodriguez said.

However, he acknowl­edged that the cli­mate will be the most sig­nif­i­cant fac­tor to fore­cast the com­ing year’s pro­duc­tion.

Uruguay is cur­rently expe­ri­enc­ing the impacts of El Niño, which has resulted in a sig­nif­i­cant amount of rain in the spring, help­ing to break the country’s his­toric drought.

While the rain has refilled rivers, reser­voirs and aquifers, it means that the teams of agron­o­mists at Agroland and Nuevo Manantial will need to be wary of pests and fungi that thrive in warm and humid weather, espe­cially as they look to repeat their suc­cess at the 2024 NYIOOC.



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