Experiment with North African Olive Varieties Bears Fruit in Croatia

One producer has found that his Chemlali and Moroccan Picholine trees are thriving in Dalmatia’s increasingly hot and dry climate.

Ivica Vlatković
By Nedjeljko Jusup
Aug. 11, 2022 16:19 UTC
Ivica Vlatković

Olive vari­eties native to North Africa are becom­ing some of the best suited for the cli­mate in south­ern Croatia, one of the coun­try’s lead­ing pro­duc­ers has found.

Ivica Vlatković, an award-win­ning pro­ducer and pres­i­dent of the Association of Olive Growers of Zadar County, has spent the last decade graft­ing Chemlali and Moroccon Picholine olive trees with the local Oblica vari­ety.

I real­ized that the African vari­eties are grow­ing in more favor­able cli­matic con­di­tions for bet­ter bud dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion, which means bet­ter fer­til­ity.- Ivica Vlatković, owner, OPG Vlatković

His 500-tree olive grove, sit­u­ated above the pic­turesque town of Novigrad in north­ern Dalmatia, com­prises mostly local vari­eties, com­bined with some Italian, Greek and North African ones.

The African olive vari­eties of Chemlali and Moroccan Picholine pro­duced the best this year,” Vlatković said. Studying the olive vari­eties, I real­ized that the African vari­eties are grow­ing in more favor­able cli­matic con­di­tions for bet­ter bud dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion, which means bet­ter fer­til­ity.”

See Also:Unraveling the Mystery Behind Slovenia’s Dramatic Fruit Drop

He added that his Chemlali and Moroccan Picholine trees had demon­strated extra­or­di­nary,” uni­form fer­til­ity due to the absence of the alter­na­tive bear­ing cycle in these vari­eties.

Vlatković also praised the resilience of his Chemlali trees. After strong winds dam­aged the north-fac­ing branches of some of his trees, Vlatković was still able to har­vest a mod­est crop from the south-fac­ing branches of those same trees.

Along with their har­di­ness, Vlatković also believes that cli­mate change has made the Chemlali and Moroccan Picholinhe vari­eties par­tic­u­larly suit­able for Dalmatia.

Average annual tem­per­a­tures have con­tin­ued to warm each year and now resem­ble those typ­i­cal of North Africa in the sum­mer. Periods of dry spring weather also have trans­formed into more extended dry peri­ods through­out the sum­mer.

However, olive trees can cope with this arid cli­mate in North Africa due to the tem­per­a­ture dif­fer­en­tial dur­ing the days and nights. Significantly cooler night­time tem­per­a­tures resulted in dew form­ing, pro­vid­ing much-needed water to the trees.

Unlike in North Africa, tem­per­a­tures remain steady through­out the day and night on the Dalmatian main­land and its coastal islands. As a result, Vlatković installed irri­ga­tion to replace the absence of the dew each morn­ing.

I don’t irri­gate the olives. I spray them,” he said. This way, 10 times less water is used, and the effects are bet­ter. The olive is a crop of an arid, dry cli­mate, and it requires mois­ture at the right time, which is sum­mer.”

It has devel­oped the abil­ity to absorb mois­ture through the leaves quickly,” Vlatković added. In this way, these olives live and bear fruit with­out rain.”

Along with their resilience to Dalatia’s increas­ingly arid cli­mate, Vlatković said the result­ing olive oil also has a dis­tinct fla­vor. Chemlali oil has a pro­nounced spici­ness and pleas­ant bit­ter­ness,” he said.

Vlatković received his first Chemlali seedlings from the Institute of Adriatic Culture near Split, where a res­i­dent engi­neer gifted him seedlings from the par­ent tree.

According to Vlatković, the par­ent Chemlali tree was brought to Croatia – then part of Yugoslavia – after for­mer pres­i­dent Josip Broz Tito vis­ited an olive tree col­lec­tion in Morocco and decided to bring some sam­ples back with him.

Reading about the value of these new olives, I real­ized that they are the most abun­dant in the Maghreb coun­tries and that they are good oilseeds,” Vlatković said. They prob­a­bly go back to the dis­tant past of the Phoenician route of the spread of olives across the Mediterranean.”

Along with North African vari­eties, he is also bull­ish that the rare Israeli vari­ety, Barnea, will thrive in Dalmatia. He was first given a Barnea tree by a Croatian col­league liv­ing in France and planted the tree in his grove to honor the Israeli sci­en­tist, Shimon Lavee.

While Croatia is a long way off from pro­duc­ing olive oil from North African and Middle Eastern vari­eties on a com­mer­cial scale, Vlatković has turned his atten­tion to the upcom­ing har­vest.

He believes it will be fruit­ful if it rains by the end of this month. The same may be said for most Croatian olive groves irri­gated dur­ing the pre­vi­ous dry period. The pits have turned brown, and now the oil is accu­mu­lat­ing in the fruit.

If the rains fall, every­thing will be saved, and it will be an above-aver­age good olive grow­ing year,” Vlatković con­cluded. If the drought lasts until September, it will not be good for the yield or the qual­ity of the oil.”

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