Officials Hope Winning Results Spur Olive Production in Herzegovina

Bosnia and Herzegovina has experienced faster growth in olive tree cultivation than any other European country since 1977. Quality has also improved.
Miro Barbarić (left) and Marko Ivanković
Feb. 8, 2022
Nedjeljko Jusup

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Olive farm­ing is rapidly devel­op­ing in Herzegovina, which locals believe is poised to become the next star” of the olive oil world.

Situated directly east of Croatia, Herzegovina is the south­ern­most and slightly smaller of the two regions that com­prise Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Our two oils that com­peted and won awards at the com­pe­ti­tion in New York is an indi­ca­tor of the great poten­tial of olive grow­ing in Herzegovina.- Marko Ivanković, direc­tor, Federal Agro-Mediterranean Institute Mostar

We are tak­ing big steps for­ward,” said Marko Ivanković, direc­tor of the Federal Agro-Mediterranean Institute Mostar.

See Also:Celebrating the Fruit of An Ancient Tree in Montenegro

The tra­di­tion of olive cul­ti­va­tion in the region is exten­sive. Olives have been present in this area since ancient times. Evidence of olive oil pro­duc­tion can be dated back to Roman remains in Čapljina and Mogorjelo, in south­west­ern Herzegovina.

Occasionally olives have been planted along with vine­yards and in back­yards for cen­turies, but orga­nized cul­ti­va­tion has only recently begun.

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From 1977, the num­ber of olive trees in Herzegovina has increased dra­mat­i­cally, ris­ing from 6,000 to the cur­rent 87,000, cov­er­ing 350 hectares. In the past 45 years, the num­ber of olive trees has increased by 1,450-percent, a record level for the European Mediterranean.

The struc­ture of the region’s olive farms is also inter­est­ing: there are 10 large ones, includ­ing that of Dragan Mikulić, with 7,000 trees on 50 hectares in Ljubuški. In addi­tion to the large ones, more than 200 smaller ones start with a size of 0.3 hectares per farm.

Most of the new plan­ta­tions have been built in the last 10 years or so,” said Ivanković.

Along with the rise of plant­ing, olive pro­cess­ing also devel­oped. Slavko Ramljak, the owner of one of the first oil mills, remem­bers how Herzegovinian olive grow­ers began to learn when to pick and process har­vested fruits.

Initially, they did not know that they had to bring the olives to the oil mill as soon as pos­si­ble to be processed within 24 hours,” he said. Today, they prop­erly store olives in boxes, unlike when they were stored in buck­ets or plas­tic bags and when they did not sep­a­rate dam­aged fruits.”

They used to col­lect and drop fruits to have more oil, which reduced its qual­ity. That is no longer hap­pen­ing,” Ramljak added.

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The annual olive oil production in Herzegovina is about 260,000 liters.

Ivanković con­firmed Ramljak’s rec­ol­lec­tions. About 10 years ago, the Federal Agro-Mediterranean Institute Mostar orga­nized the Olive Days 2011’ event. Only 24 sam­ples of olive oil arrived for eval­u­a­tion.

Then, and a few years later, there were oils of all classes, from lam­pante to vir­gin to extra vir­gin olive oils,” Ivanković said. In the mean­time, the sit­u­a­tion has changed in favor of pre­mium oils. All oils are now in the extra vir­gin’ class.”

At the 2021 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition, Bosnia and Herzegovinian oil was awarded for the fourth con­sec­u­tive year. However, two pro­duc­ers from the coun­try were awarded for the first time.

The Škegro Family Winery won a Gold Award for its Krš brand, a medium blend of Leccino, Oblica, Pendolino and Cipressino olives. Meanwhile, the Slavko Čula fam­ily earned a Silver Award for Mandino, its medium blend of Leccino, Pendolino and Istrian Bjelica olives.

Our two oils that com­peted and won awards at the com­pe­ti­tion in New York is an indi­ca­tor of the great poten­tial of olive grow­ing in Herzegovina,” Ivanković said.

The Federal Agro-Mediterranean Institute Mostar will encour­age other olive grow­ers to par­tic­i­pate in future edi­tions of the NYIOOC.

Ivanković claims that Herzegovinian oils do not lag behind Spanish, Italian, Greek or other oils from far more famous olive oil-pro­duc­ing coun­tries in terms of qual­ity.

As part of the European Union project, ARISTOIL, which is ded­i­cated to research­ing and pro­mot­ing high phe­no­lic olive oil,” Herzegovinian oils have been shown to have polyphe­nol counts as high as any oth­ers: as much as 600 mil­ligrams per kilo­gram.

As part of the project, the researchers ana­lyze the phe­no­lic com­po­nents in olive oil using an inno­v­a­tive nuclear mag­netic res­o­nance tech­nique, liq­uid chro­matog­ra­phy and spec­tropho­tom­e­try, all to sci­en­tif­i­cally demon­strate the health value of the olive oil.

Herzegovina is located between the Adriatic Sea in the south­west­ern cor­ner and the high con­ti­nen­tal moun­tains of the Western Balkans in the north. Miro Barbarić, an expert asso­ciate of the Federal Institute, said the whole region is not entirely suit­able for olive grow­ing.

However, he added that the area of​Herzegovina, for the most part, does not exceed an alti­tude of more than 400 meters. As such, it is suit­able for grow­ing olives with its sub-Mediterranean cli­mate.

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Producers hope to increase the total number of olive groves from 350 to 1,000 hectares.

According to Köppen’s cli­mate clas­si­fi­ca­tions, these local­i­ties of macro-regions are in the sub­type of cli­mate which is man­i­fested by two char­ac­ter­is­tics, namely the Mediterranean cli­mate with dry and warm sum­mers, where the aver­age monthly tem­per­a­ture in the cold­est month is between 4 ºC and 13 ºC,” he said.

The soil is rocky, rich in min­er­als, and the most com­mon vari­eties are Oblica, Leccino, Pendolino and Istarska bjel­ica. Others such as Frantoio, Buža, Ascolana tenere, Drobnica, Levantinka, Lastovka, Carolea, Coratina and Ciperssino have also been planted.

Ivanković said that he plans to increase the amount of land ded­i­cated to olive cul­ti­va­tion in Herzegovina.

In the next medium-term period, the goal is to reach 1,000 hectares of olive trees,” he said.

He hopes the expan­sion of olive grow­ing will pro­mote olive oil con­sump­tion, which is now only 0.24 liters per capita.

He added that increas­ing the pro­duc­tion of extra vir­gin olive oil from the cur­rent 260,000 liters to one mil­lion liters would elim­i­nate the need for imports, which cur­rently amount to 590,000 liters each year, worth roughly €2 mil­lion.

Increasing pro­duc­tion may even allow some farm­ers to expand their exports. Currently, Herzegovina exports about 9,800 liters of olive oil val­ued at €20,000.

Future research, said Ivanković, will focus on olive oil’s health ben­e­fits by pro­mot­ing it as a func­tional food accord­ing to E.U. leg­is­la­tion 432/2012, which indi­cates the pre­ven­tive effect of olive oil on car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­eases.

To this end, the Herzegovinian Association of Olive Growers (HUUM) was founded last year. Josip-Lola Matić, a promi­nent olive grower and oil pro­ducer from the Broćanac, was named pres­i­dent.


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