Record Yields for Portugal in the 2021/22 Crop Year

Ideal weather and more modern olive groves allowed Portugal to harvest up to 230,000 tons of olive oil. However, experts warn of challenges ahead.

Mar. 2, 2022
By Paolo DeAndreis

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Olive oil pro­duc­tion in Portugal is on pace to reach a record-high 225 mil­lion liters (230,000 tons) in the 2021/22 crop year, accord­ing to the National Institute of Statistics (INE).

INE attrib­uted the bumper har­vest to opti­mal agro-mete­o­ro­log­i­cal con­di­tions and the grow­ing role of high-den­sity and super-high-den­sity olive groves.

Average olive oil pro­duc­tion in Portugal could reach, in the short-medium term, 200,000 tons per year.- Mariana Matos, sec­re­tary-gen­eral, Casa do Azeite

However, fig­ures released by Olivum show slightly lower pro­duc­tion. The local olive oil pro­duc­ers and millers asso­ci­a­tion esti­mate pro­duc­tion for the 2021/22 crop year to reach between 180,000 and 200,000 tons.

Either way, this year’s yield will set records. In the pre­vi­ous sea­son, pro­duc­tion reached 100,000 tons while 150,000 tons were reported in 2019/20, the pre­vi­ous record-high.

See Also:2021 Harvest News

In the cam­paign that has just ended, the weather con­di­tions and the near absence of pests undoubt­edly con­tributed to these very pos­i­tive results in terms of pro­duc­tion, which are effec­tively the best fig­ures ever for the sec­tor,” Gonçalo Almeida Simões, exec­u­tive direc­tor of Olivum, told Olive Oil Times.

Casa do Azeite, the local asso­ci­a­tion for pro­mot­ing olive oil and olive oil cul­ture, con­firmed the cur­rent yields rep­re­sent the largest pro­duc­tion total since the coun­try started sys­tem­at­i­cally report­ing har­vest data in 1915.

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According to Mariana Matos, Casa do Azeite’s sec­re­tary-gen­eral, this could be just the begin­ning.

Bearing in mind the strong invest­ment in new and irri­gated plan­ta­tions that Portugal has wit­nessed in the last years, espe­cially in the Alentejo region, it is esti­mated that the aver­age olive oil pro­duc­tion in Portugal could reach, in the short-medium term, 200,000 tons per year,” Matos told Olive Oil Times.

She added that pro­duc­tion could con­tinue to grow as invest­ments in new plan­ta­tions con­tinue, although with a slower growth rate than what has been seen so far.”

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Olive farm­ing has been a rel­e­vant part of Portuguese agri­cul­tural tra­di­tion and cul­ture for cen­turies. It is believed the first olive trees appeared in the coun­try more than 3,000 years ago.

According to data from Juan Vilar Strategic Consulting, Portugal now has 361,483 hectares of olive groves, three per­cent of the global olive grow­ing area.

The cen­tral-south­ern Alentejo region is home to the high­est num­ber of high-den­sity plan­ta­tions. Low-den­sity groves are more com­mon in the south­ern Algarve region or the cen­tral-north­ern Entre Douro-e-Minho region.

Juan Vilar Strategic Consulting’s data show that 64 per­cent of Portugal is cov­ered in mod­ern olive groves, of which slightly more than 32 per­cent are high-den­sity and slightly less than 32 per­cent are super-high-den­sity. Additionally, more than 38 per­cent of groves are irri­gated.

Since the first mod­ern grove was planted in the Santarém region in the last 20 years, heavy invest­ments and pub­lic incen­tives have dras­ti­cally changed the coun­try’s olive grow­ing sec­tor, which relied on tra­di­tional groves.

Portugal used to be a coun­try with a high deficit in the pro­duc­tion of olive oil, hav­ing to import a huge amount of olive oil to sat­isfy its needs,” Matos said. This whole sit­u­a­tion changed in a few years, and Portugal is now a self-suf­fi­cient coun­try… and a net exporter.”

The sec­tor’s trade bal­ance went from being extremely defi­cient to a pos­i­tive bal­ance of around €250 mil­lion, while the qual­ity of olive oil pro­duced in Portugal increased sig­nif­i­cantly,” she added.

Portugal became self-suf­fi­cient in olive oil pro­duc­tion in 2014 and pro­duces 150 per­cent of its needs, which, accord­ing to Olivum, makes Portugal the world’s fourth-largest exporter.

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The increase in terms of area, but also of pro­duc­tiv­ity, is linked to the mod­ern olive grove and, above all, to the large irri­ga­tion project in Alqueva,” Almeida Simões said.

Thus, 60 per­cent of the Alqueva irri­ga­tion perime­ter is mod­ern olive groves and the increases in the quan­ti­ties pro­duced are directly related to the suc­cess and pro­duc­tiv­ity of this type of olive grove,” he added. In 2000, the national aver­age of olive pro­duc­tion was 0.5 tons per hectare. Today, some farms in the Alqueva region are pro­duc­ing 20 tons per hectare.”

While a few Portuguese com­pa­nies are among the largest olive oil pro­duc­ers glob­ally, an increas­ing num­ber of small pro­duc­ers also are demon­strat­ing the qual­ity of their extra vir­gin olive oils.

At the 2021 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition, 38 Portuguese olive oils were awarded for their excel­lent qual­ity. Among the win­ning pro­duc­ers, many grow tra­di­tional olive groves.

They play a very impor­tant role in the national scene, as they pro­duce high-qual­ity bot­tled olive oil,” Almeida Simões said. Olives are a rain­fed crop that is found mainly in the regions of Trás-os-Montes, Beira Alta and Beira Baixa.”

He added that tra­di­tional and mod­ern groves have a sig­nif­i­cant eco­nomic impact on Portugal and a social impact on rural inland com­mu­ni­ties.

The agri-food sec­tor, namely the olive oil sec­tor, has made it pos­si­ble to boost the local econ­omy and cre­ate jobs in regions that are unin­ter­est­ing for other sec­tors of the econ­omy, as they are far from large urban cen­ters,” Almeida Simões said.

Local experts also value tra­di­tional olive groves for their role in main­tain­ing bio­di­ver­sity and pro­tect­ing genetic diver­sity.

According to Matos, their genetic pro­file and the role they play in land­scape and ecosys­tem main­te­nance is such that this type of olive grove, which is less prof­itable by nature, must be specif­i­cally sup­ported so that its sur­vival can be guar­an­teed.”

While pro­duc­tion in Portugal con­tin­ues to rise dra­mat­i­cally, aver­age annual olive oil con­sump­tion is esti­mated at 7.8 liters per per­son, plac­ing the coun­try behind Italy, Spain and Greece.

Although, Portuguese experts noted how olive oil con­sump­tion in major pro­duc­ing coun­tries has dropped in recent years.

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This should be a wake-up call for the entire sec­tor,” Matos said. There are many myths and a lot of mis­in­for­ma­tion, and the sec­tor is respon­si­ble for pro­mot­ing olive oils and edu­cat­ing con­sumers.”

We need to have more stud­ies on the rea­son for this drop in con­sump­tion in pro­duc­ing coun­tries so that we can design well-tar­geted mar­ket­ing cam­paigns,” she added.

The International Olive Council is con­duct­ing in-depth stud­ies on con­sumer behav­ior in sev­eral coun­tries, and I believe that the results of these stud­ies will be an essen­tial tool to under­stand the phe­nom­e­non, pro­mote the con­sump­tion of olive oil and cap­ture the atten­tion of younger con­sumers,” Matos con­tin­ued.

According to Almeida Simões, pro­duc­ing coun­tries should con­tinue to pro­mote their olive oil cul­tures but should not be lim­ited by this.

A sig­nif­i­cant invest­ment has to be made in the con­sumer mar­kets of non-pro­duc­ing coun­tries that already con­sume olive oil,” he said, and, above all, in non-pro­duc­ing coun­tries that do not have a tra­di­tion of con­sum­ing olive oil, as is the case of Asian coun­tries, where soy dom­i­nates the cui­sine.”

Among the most rel­e­vant chal­lenges the sec­tor faces, experts empha­size the role of cli­mate change and, more specif­i­cally, the severe and last­ing drought that is affect­ing the coun­try.

The neg­a­tive effects of the severe and extreme mete­o­ro­log­i­cal drought can already be observed, which, at the end of January, affected 45 per­cent of the main­land,” the INE wrote. This drought sce­nario, together with the rise in the prices of means of pro­duc­tion, has gen­er­ated uncer­tainty and grow­ing con­cern in the sec­tor.”

This year, the drought is reach­ing pro­por­tions that are already very wor­ry­ing, and that could reach cat­a­strophic dimen­sions in the com­ing weeks,” Almeida Simões added.

Rainfed crops are suf­fer­ing, and irri­gated crops are apply­ing the min­i­mum so that the plant does not suf­fer from water stress, which could affect the veg­e­ta­tive cycle not only this year, but in the years to come,” he con­cluded.



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