The 1,000-Member Co-Op Taking on The Challenging Terrain of Northern Portugal

The members of the Agricultural Cooperative of Olive Growers of Murça farm the rugged terrain, working together to produce award-winning extra virgin olive oil.
Francisco António Vilela Ribeiro is the chairman of the board of directors of CAOM. (Photo: CAOM)
By Paolo DeAndreis
Jun. 27, 2024 14:52 UTC

About 1,000 Portuguese farm­ers cel­e­brated news of two awards at the 2024 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition.

The farm­ers are mem­bers of the Agricultural Cooperative of Olive Growers of Murça (CAOM), which earned Silver Awards for a medium-inten­sity blend and del­i­cate Cordovil at the World Competition.

The search for high qual­ity was the answer to the chal­lenges of this region and the higher costs asso­ci­ated with the moun­tain­ous envi­ron­ment.- Francisco António Vilela Ribeiro, cha­ri­man of the board, CAOM

Our goal in par­tic­i­pat­ing in the NYIOOC was to inform peo­ple about the extra­or­di­nary qual­ity of our Azeite Porca de Murça brand and the work behind such excel­lence,” said Francisco António Vilela Ribeiro, the coop­er­a­tive’s chair­man of the board of direc­tors.

NYIOOC is a con­test with very demand­ing analy­sis cri­te­ria and great feed­back,” he added. There are many national and inter­na­tional con­tests, but win­ning in New York is spe­cial.”

See Also:Producer Profiles

While CAOM has con­sis­tently achieved suc­cess at the World Competition since 2020, the coop­er­a­tive has been unit­ing a large com­mu­nity of farm­ers in the north­east­ern Portuguese region of Trás-os-Montes since 1956.

It started in the 1990s when the Cooperative focused on pro­duc­ing high-qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oil,” Vilela Ribeiro said.

The search for high qual­ity was the answer to the chal­lenges of this region and the higher costs asso­ci­ated with the moun­tain­ous envi­ron­ment, the exten­sive orchards and the dry­land farm­ing prac­tices,” he added.

The coop­er­a­tive now sells more than 500,000 liters of its Azeite Porca de Murça brand nation­ally and inter­na­tion­ally.

None of the almost 1,000 mem­bers of the coop­er­a­tive have irri­gated olive groves, all of which are tra­di­tion­ally spaced. CAOM esti­mated that, on aver­age, these grow­ers incur three times the expenses of the aver­age super-inten­sive grower.

These con­di­tions have led CAOM to develop alter­na­tive rev­enue streams, includ­ing its ded­i­cated museum, the start­ing point for the cooperative’s guided tours.

The main chal­lenge for these pro­duc­ers is to edu­cate new con­sumers about the ben­e­fits of con­sum­ing vir­gin olive oils instead of other veg­etable oils,” Vilela Ribeiro said.

Extra vir­gin olive oil is unique, and no food or med­i­cine can replace it,” he added. It is cru­cial for our health. We need more con­sumers who are bet­ter informed about this.”

Valuing the unique rela­tion­ship between the land and the farm­ers’ work is cru­cial for the coop­er­a­tive’s present and future.

With higher pro­duc­tion costs, giv­ing our work value means main­tain­ing areas that are already depop­u­lated and risk being aban­doned,” Vilela Ribeiro said.


CAOM’s museum serves as another revenue source for the cooperative while educating visitors on olive oil production. (Photo: CAOM)

The cooperative’s olive groves are spread across an 189-square-kilo­me­ter area in the Murça munic­i­pal­ity. CAOM focuses on the four local vari­eties – Cordovil, Cobrançosa, Madural, and Verdeal – included in the Trás-os-Montes Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) cer­ti­fi­ca­tion awarded by the European Union.

According to the tech­ni­cal sum­mary pub­lished by the European Commission, Trás-os-Montes PDO extra vir­gin olive oil is bal­anced, with aro­mas and fla­vors of fresh fruit and some­times almonds. The oil is notably sweet, green, bit­ter and spicy, char­ac­ter­is­tics that make it stand out from other olive oils in the coun­try.


The olive oil we pro­duce has a very spe­cific iden­tity – its ter­roir – because Murça is the epi­cen­ter of the three micro­cli­mates of the Transmontana region: Terra Quente, Terra Fria and Terra de Montanha,” Vilela Ribeiro said.

This means we have three regions with very dis­tinct cli­mates, rang­ing from the nar­row val­leys of the Tua and Tinhela rivers, with olive groves bor­der­ing the vine­yards of the Douro demar­cated region, to the more moun­tain­ous areas where olive groves com­pete with chest­nut cul­ti­va­tion,” he added.

Vilela Ribeiro noted that the coop­er­a­tive has been a pio­neer” due to its ver­ti­cally inte­grated con­trol of the entire pro­duc­tion chain over the past 30 years, ensur­ing that every step from har­vest to pack­ag­ing is done accord­ing to the high­est stan­dards.

The com­mu­nal olive mill, which was started by the coop­er­a­tive mem­bers when it was founded, has been the lynch­pin of the oper­a­tion.

It became key to the econ­omy of an inland munic­i­pal­ity of Portugal, with a chal­leng­ing topog­ra­phy for farm­ing,” Vilela Ribeiro said. It also allows small olive pro­duc­ers to scale up, which would oth­er­wise be impos­si­ble.”

See Also:Olive Oil Producers in Portugal Celebrate Country’s Second-Highest Yield

According to CAOM, the coop­er­a­tive demon­strates the world-class qual­ity of tra­di­tional olive farm­ing because of its cul­ture inspired by com­mu­nity and team­work.

The fact that our mem­bers truly nur­ture a coop­er­a­tive spirit of sol­i­dar­ity and shar­ing made us the only case in Portugal where the val­u­a­tion of what they pro­duce is not only based on the olive yield but on the actual qual­ity of the fruit itself,” Vilela Ribeiro said.

By look­ing at the fruits, we can also decide when it is the best time to start har­vest­ing,” he added. Thanks to our mod­ern olive mill, we can sched­ule the work to deliver the fruit to us in less than 24 hours from har­vest­ing.”

The weather is not always on the grow­ers’ side, though.

This year, due to cli­mate change and extreme weather phe­nom­ena expe­ri­enced through­out the Mediterranean region, as well as an autumn with lots of rain, pro­duc­tion was lower and more dif­fi­cult,” Vilela Ribeiro said.

On aver­age, we need 1.5 kilo­grams more olives to pro­duce the same liter of olive oil,” he added. When com­pared to the pre­vi­ous sea­son, pro­duc­tion was again low, with lower yields, which fur­ther impacted the total pro­duc­tion in the region.”

Looking ahead to the 2024/25 har­vest, Vilela Ribeiro said he also expects to face more chal­lenges.

Extreme phe­nom­ena such as heavy rains, hail­storms or heat waves jeop­ar­dize both flow­er­ing and fruit set, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to antic­i­pate any sce­nario for the next olive sea­son,” he said.


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