This time of year is usually the most joyous for Umbrian farmers and producers, whose dedication transpires through the fragrances of the region’s world-famous extra virgin olive oils wafting through the countryside.
It’s also the time of the season when mills open their doors in an annual tradition, the Frantoi Aperti, inviting toruists and locals alike to rejoice in the harvest and taste the celebrated Moraiolo, Frantoio and Leccino extra virgins olive oils fresh from the press.
But while the guided tours, concerts and cooking classes will go on as always, many farmers in the region are in no mood to celebrate. Instead they are in the throes of a horrendously bad harvest ravaged by the olive fly that thrived in this season’s unusual humidity.
“It will be a year that growers and mills will want to forget,” said Brian Chatterton, the former South Australian minister for agriculture and now an olive oil producer in Umbria.
Chatteron said many growers are angry that the advisory services from the region and the associations failed to predict the disaster and advise growers on control measures. Other parts of Italy where the olive fly is a more frequent problem have good monitoring services including cooperatives of growers practicing integrated pest management (IPM) systems.
Chatterton said most frantoi that would normally be going 24/7 this time of year are operating just eight hours these days. Many growers, he told Olive Oil Times, are not bothering to harvest at all, preferring to leave the pillaged fruit to rot on the trees.
Things are no better for farmers in Liguria, where floods at the worst possible time have decimated crops and production is expected to be just half of last year’s.