The Trials and Triumphs of Organic Olive Farming in Andalusia

The fifth-generation family behind Luque Ecológico believes organic farming produces flavorful extra virgin olive oil, protects the environment and mitigates the impacts of drought.

Juan Manuel Luque, Belen Luque and Rafael Gálvez (Photo: Luque Ecológico)
By Daniel Dawson
May. 7, 2024 13:12 UTC
Juan Manuel Luque, Belen Luque and Rafael Gálvez (Photo: Luque Ecológico)

Organic olive farm­ing is the past, present and future at Luque Ecológico.

The fifth-gen­er­a­tion fam­ily com­pany has 300 hectares of organic olive groves at sev­eral dif­fer­ent farms between Córdoba and Granada in the south­ern Spanish region of Andalusia.

We focus on an early har­vest so that (the olives) have more intense aro­mas. The truth is that we don’t under­stand any other way to do it.- Rafael Gálvez, sales and qual­ity man­ager, Luque Ecológico

Our com­pany has been in organic farm­ing since the late 1980s, so all of our projects have always been ori­ented towards qual­ity and the envi­ron­ment,” said Rafael Gálvez, a for­mally trained agron­o­mist and the company’s sales and qual­ity man­ager.

Despite the many chal­lenges asso­ci­ated with organic farm­ing, the team behind Luque Ecológico sees sus­tain­able agri­cul­tural and milling prac­tices as the best way to achieve out­stand­ing qual­ity and mit­i­gate the increas­ingly appar­ent impacts of cli­mate change in south­ern Spain.

See Also:Producer Profiles

Organic farm­ers are always look­ing for a bal­ance in the ecosys­tem,” Gálvez said. The com­pa­ny’s goal is for every­thing it does in its olive groves to ben­e­fit the trees and envi­ron­ment.

We have had green cover plants for 30 years,” Gálvez said. Pruning remains are also incor­po­rated into the soil. The soil has to be alive. There has to be organic mat­ter, and there have to be microor­gan­isms that, in turn, make it eas­ier for what­ever nutri­ents there are to be trans­ferred to the crop.”

He added, We also try to ensure that the aux­il­iary fauna devel­ops in the olive grove’s green cover plants because this is how we con­trol pests.”

One of the main chal­lenges for organic farm­ers, Gálvez cited, is the need to be con­stantly vig­i­lant, aware of poten­tial prob­lems before they appear and pre­pared with tech­ni­cal solu­tions.

It is vital to antic­i­pate prob­lems because then the solu­tions are not easy for organic farm­ing,” he said. The solu­tions are not imme­di­ate. It is not a mat­ter of press­ing a but­ton or being able to apply a mag­i­cal prod­uct. So it’s always about improv­ing and main­tain­ing bal­ance.”

Along with pre­serv­ing the nat­ural envi­ron­ment, Gálvez believes that plant­ing aro­matic herbs and cover crops and improv­ing soil health influ­ences the organolep­tic char­ac­ter­is­tics of the company’s extra vir­gin olive oil.

We believe this may influ­ence the organolep­tic char­ac­ter­is­tics,” he said. There are no sci­en­tific stud­ies on this, but we think it does some­how affect these char­ac­ter­is­tics.”

The company’s efforts were rewarded for the ninth straight year at the 2024 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition. Luque Ecológico earned a Gold Award for its Take a Walk on the Organic Side brand, a medium Hojiblanca.


Luque Ecológico has been awarded at nine consecutive NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competitions. (Photo: Luque Ecológico)

Take a Walk on the Organic Side is a low-input project grown in an olive grove with min­i­mal fea­si­ble inputs,” Gálvez said.

Luque Ecológico’s olive groves are spread over three farms, each with native olive vari­eties and dif­fer­ent cul­ti­va­tion meth­ods. However, each project aims to achieve a high-qual­ity, healthy, fla­vor­ful prod­uct.

Of course, it is very impor­tant for us that all the prod­ucts we put on the mar­ket are of the high­est qual­ity,” Gálvez said. To achieve this, we have always been adapt­ing new tech­nolo­gies and new ways of obtain­ing oil in our mill.”

We changed the ver­ti­cal cen­trifuges, which reduced water con­sump­tion by 50 per­cent,” he added. That is good for the envi­ron­ment, but it is also good for the qual­ity, so the oil is not washed out too much, and polyphe­nols and antiox­i­dants are not lost.”


Along with organic prac­tices, Luque Ecológico focuses on an early har­vest to pre­serve the olives’ organolep­tic qual­i­ties and ensure the max­i­mum amount of polyphe­nols in the result­ing olive oil.

We focus on an early har­vest so that they have more intense aro­mas,” Gálvez said. The truth is that we don’t under­stand any other way to do it.”


Among Luque Ecológico’s challenges is increasingly hot weather during the early harvest in October. (Photo: Luque Ecológico)

He added that the mind­set sur­round­ing qual­ity has changed immensely over the five gen­er­a­tions his fam­ily has pro­duced olive oil.

In the begin­ning, it was all about pro­duc­ing olive oil,” he said. Nowadays, the goal is to sus­tain­ably pro­duce qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oil.”

The har­vest has also become more effi­cient over the years. Previously, many labor­ers har­vested olives by hand, and mules hauled the olives to the mill,” Gálvez said. Sometimes, the olives would stay in the field for a cou­ple of days before they were taken to the mill.”

Since then, every­thing has changed; the first gen­er­a­tions were olive oil pro­duc­ers, and we are now extra vir­gin olive oil pro­duc­ers,” he added.

Gálvez said the men­tal­ity changed over the years from sell­ing bulk olive oil to be bot­tled by other com­pa­nies to pro­duc­ing a brand with attrac­tive pack­ag­ing and ver­ti­cally inte­grat­ing the entire process.

The company’s sales chan­nels have also changed. While pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions sold to local bot­tlers, Gálvez said Luque Ecológico now exports most of its organic extra vir­gin olive oil abroad.

Due to our prod­ucts’ organic ori­gins, exports have been our main activ­ity from the begin­ning,” he said. The national mar­ket was very low, and it is still very low, so exports are our main focus for our prod­uct.”

Luque Ecológico now exports to more than 20 coun­tries, includ­ing Australia, Canada, Japan, South Korea, the United Kingdom, the United States and other European coun­tries.

Gálvez attrib­utes increas­ing global demand for organic olive oil to improv­ing aware­ness of extra vir­gin olive oil’s health ben­e­fits and greater knowl­edge of how to use it effec­tively in var­i­ous cook­ing styles.

The United States is one of the most inter­est­ing mar­kets, and we are repo­si­tion­ing the prod­uct there,” he said. “[Meanwhile, Japan and South Korea] are among the coun­tries that have been grow­ing the most lately.”

While Spanish olive oil pro­duc­tion rebounded to 846,800 tons in the 2023/24 crop year from the his­toric low of the pre­vi­ous har­vest, Gálvez said Luque Ecológico had not expe­ri­enced a pro­duc­tion increase.

“​We had two very tough years of drought, so we achieved around 50 per­cent of that of a nor­mal har­vest,” he said. However, not all vari­eties expe­ri­enced the same decreases, with Picual suf­fer­ing more than oth­ers.


Luque Ecólogico grows several endemic varieties at different farms in Andalusia. (Photo: Luque Ecológico)

Along with drought, Gálvez said the com­pany expe­ri­enced extreme swings in tem­per­a­ture at the moment of flow­er­ing, fur­ther ham­per­ing pro­duc­tion.

Last year, we had three cli­matic con­di­tions: drought, high tem­per­a­ture dur­ing flow­er­ing and low tem­per­a­tures at the end of flow­er­ing,” he said. We had a farm that expe­ri­enced frost and lost all the flow­ers and leaves from the trees… It was incred­i­ble; we had never seen a sit­u­a­tion quite like that.”

While Gálvez said there is not much pro­duc­ers can do to mit­i­gate the impacts of extreme tem­per­a­ture swings, organic prac­tices can help reduce the effects of the drought.

When you have plant cov­ers, more mois­ture is main­tained in the soil,” he said. However, Gálvez added that if dry­land groves do not receive the min­i­mum amount of rain at cer­tain moments of the year, includ­ing the moment of flow­er­ing, then the trees still suf­fer.

While the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion in Andalusia promises a much stronger har­vest in the 2024/25 crop year than in pre­vi­ous ones due to rain, extreme tem­per­a­ture fluc­tu­a­tions could hurt the trees.

The com­ing har­vest has high prospects,” Gálvez said. It has rained a lot in the past month.”

Steady and con­sis­tent rain­fall has allowed the soil to trap mois­ture and fill reser­voirs and other bod­ies of water, which Luque Ecológico will rely on to irri­gate some of its groves dur­ing the sum­mer. Still, more rain is needed to ensure a suc­cess­ful har­vest.

Now, it has to con­tinue rain­ing in spring with­out high tem­per­a­tures or frost,” Gálvez said. Summer is still to come, and then it should rain again in the autumn. In other words, with this water, the entire crop cycle is not resolved.”

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