In Italy, Abandoned Olive Groves Find New Life

Thousands of olive trees in abandoned fields are going to find a new life thanks to an association in central Italy.

Apr. 1, 2020
By Paolo DeAndreis

Thousands of aban­doned olive trees in cen­tral Italy are being restored by a new asso­ci­a­tion recently formed in the region.

They finally see the chance to bring new life to olive groves inher­ited by their own ances­tors.- Pierluigi Presciuttini, Gli Olivi di Etruria

The asso­ci­a­tion, Gli Olivi di Etruria (The Etruscan olive trees), is tack­ling the prob­lem of aban­doned groves by employ­ing advanced busi­ness mod­els, cost reduc­tions and new prun­ing and har­vest­ing tech­niques.

The group of oil mills, farm­ers, own­ers and vol­un­teers was founded in Montefiascone.

We needed to gather within an asso­ci­a­tion because of the ever-grow­ing demand for our ser­vices, and the cul­tural and social impli­ca­tions of our work,” the asso­ci­a­tion’s pres­i­dent Pierluigi Presciuttini told Olive Oil Times.

So many landown­ers have stopped pro­duc­ing olive oil in the last decades due to their age or low pro­duc­tiv­ity, and so many trees can be restored. In just a six-mile radius from here, there are at least 15,000 aban­doned trees. In the Lazio region only, we are talk­ing of at least 100,000 trees nobody is tak­ing care of,” he added.

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Families of grow­ers who employed tra­di­tional olive farm­ing meth­ods were slowly nudged out of the mar­ket by grow­ing com­pe­ti­tion. Many opted to take care of just a hand­ful of trees to pro­vide for their per­sonal olive oil needs. The other trees, some­times many, were aban­doned.

But their love for the olive tra­di­tion of our lands did not fal­ter a bit,” Presciuttini said. They are enthu­si­as­tic about our work. They finally see the chance to bring new life to olive groves inher­ited by their own ances­tors.”

They have the chance to see their fields beau­ti­ful, as they used to be and to have a lit­tle income from their trees,” he added. For us, it means the chance to har­vest many more olives and to make this spe­cial busi­ness grow.”

The asso­ci­a­tion has focused on prun­ing tech­niques that reduce over­all costs while max­i­miz­ing the pro­duc­tiv­ity of the hours spent in the field. In an area where costly tra­di­tional olive tree prun­ing and har­vest­ing tech­niques are still wide­spread, vol­un­teers man­age their groves using the sim­pli­fied poly­conic vase” tech­nique.

The approach gets its name from the shape of the pruned trees, which resem­ble an empty vase with three or four branches serv­ing as the walls.” This approach has been found to improve oper­a­tors’ effi­ciency dra­mat­i­cally, while also enhanc­ing the pro­duc­tiv­ity of the tree. Association vol­un­teers were trained in the poly­conic tech­nique.

Thanks to the gath­er­ing for these courses, many friends decided to vol­un­teer for the asso­ci­a­tion. Our goal is to restore the groves and all together pro­duce a high-qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oil that can win the appre­ci­a­tion of the experts and the inter­est of the con­sumers,” Presciuttini said.

The asso­ci­a­tion is also employ­ing night-time har­vest­ing to pre­serve the fruits from heat and sun­light, as well as the most advanced mechan­i­cal means for oil pro­duc­tion. The asso­ci­a­tion oper­ates in the Etruria region, which extends from Rome to north­ern Tuscany, and which is home to some of the best and more pro­duc­tive olive vari­eties in Italy.

While ini­tial efforts have been promis­ing, the asso­ci­a­tion plans to expand its activ­i­ties with more vol­un­teers work­ing in the field to restore aban­doned groves.

As soon as the COVID-19 emer­gency is over, we are ready to mul­ti­ply our efforts,” Presciuttini said.



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