Business

Mixed Fortunes From 2019 Harvest in Brazil

While the sector continues to trend upwards, producers from the center of the country faced a setback with heavy rains this spring. Producers in Brazil's south are rejoicing over a bountiful harvest.

Minas Gerais countryside.
Feb. 25, 2019
By Rosa Gonzalez-Lamas
Minas Gerais countryside.

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After a decade of build­ing the foun­da­tions, Brazil’s national olive oil indus­try is grow­ing and receiv­ing praise for the qual­ity of its oils.

In 2018, Brazil pro­duced 150,000 liters of olive oil, 43 per­cent more than in 2017. The 2019 olive har­vest­ing season is cur­rently under­way and pro­duc­ers from the country’s two main olive grow­ing regions are expect­ing mixed results.

The 2018 winter was not too coop­er­a­tive and didn’t pro­vide us with the nec­es­sary total hours of chilly weather, which is a direct reason why the crop is much below the expec­ta­tions- Nélio Weiss, Serra da Mantiqueira-based pro­ducer

“Some people pro­duced 10,000 liters and now they are pro­duc­ing 5,000 or 6,000 liters,” Pérola Polillo, a Brazilian olive oil som­me­lier and chef, told Olive Oil Times. “In the south, it is the oppo­site, last year they had a bad har­vest because of frost and this year they’ve had a really good har­vest.”

Production in the Serra da Mantiqueira, which is located along the border of Minas Gerais and São Paulo, began in February and pro­duc­ers are expect­ing a dismal har­vest.

See more: The Best Brazilian Olive Oils

“There has been a size­able reduc­tion in this year’s crop as com­pared to the pre­vi­ous year. Somewhere in the region of a 40 per­cent reduc­tion,” Nélio Weiss, a local pro­ducer in the region, told Olive Oil Times.

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“The entire Mantiqueira region is expe­ri­enc­ing a sub­stan­tial reduc­tion as com­pared to last year. My expec­ta­tion is that the pro­duc­tion will not exceed 50,000 liters,” he added. Weiss per­son­ally expects only to pro­duce 1,500 liters this year.

Olive cul­ti­va­tion in the Serra da Mantiqueira rep­re­sents half of Brazil’s olive oil pro­duc­tion. The other half is in the state of Rio Grande do Sul. A very small amount of olive oil pro­duc­tion also takes place in Paraná and Espírito Santo.

In Rio Grande do Sul, pro­duc­ers are feel­ing more con­fi­dent.

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“It is still a little bit too early to talk about all the expected pro­duc­tion for our region in the south of Brazil, as we have been har­vest­ing for only two weeks,” Rafael Marchetti, the direc­tor of Prosperato, Brazil’s largest olive oil pro­ducer, told Olive Oil Times.

“But we have an idea of some­thing around 160,000 to 180,000 liters, not count­ing the rest of Brazil,” he added. “I would say that our com­pany will be respon­si­ble for one-third of this expected pro­duc­tion.”

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Contrasting weather con­di­tions in the two regions, which are sep­a­rated by about 900 kilo­me­ters, played a lead­ing role in deter­min­ing the suc­cess of the har­vests.

“The 2018 winter was not too coop­er­a­tive and didn’t pro­vide us with the nec­es­sary total hours of chilly weather, which is a direct reason why the crop is much below the expec­ta­tions,” Weiss said.

Polillo added that after a promis­ing spring, pro­duc­ers in the Serra da Mantiqueira were opti­mistic, but unsea­son­able rain pre­vented trees from being able to pol­li­nate prop­erly.

“In the spring there were a lot of flow­ers on the trees and grow­ers were very opti­mistic, but when they began to open and were being pol­li­nated, it started to rain a lot and the flow­ers could not be pol­li­nated,” she said. “Now, the trees only have a few fruits.”

Meanwhile in Rio Grande do Sul, the weather con­di­tions were ideal for olive oil pro­duc­tion.

“After a per­fect winter with low tem­per­a­tures and no rain during the flow­er­ing period, we are expect­ing to have a great har­vest,” Marchetti said.

See more: An Interview with Rafael Marchetti

The unique weather and his­tory of the Serra da Mantiqueira greatly impact the flavor pro­files and chem­i­cal com­po­si­tion of the result­ing oils, both for better and worse. Too much rain, as was the case this year, seeps into the soils and lowers the polyphe­nol counts in the olives.

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Many of these olive trees are also grown in and around coffee plan­ta­tions, which dom­i­nated the region’s econ­omy and ecol­ogy for cen­turies.

“Acidity from coffee plants has also affected olive trees, pos­si­bly low­er­ing polyphe­nols too,” Polillo said. “The com­bi­na­tion of these fac­tors make the result­ing olive oil unique, with low bit­ter­ness, low pun­gency and high fruiti­ness.”

Brazil only pro­duces extra virgin olive oils. These are fresh, have a lively color, a unique fruity aroma and are mainly bot­tled by the pro­duc­ers, who tend to har­vest olives ear­lier in the season and pro­duce blends from var­i­ous vari­eties.

“Brazilian pro­duc­ers are all rel­a­tively new and as the har­vest sea­sons progress they are get­ting better and bring­ing in experts, such as Antonio Lauro, to come and advise them over best prac­tices,” Polillo said.

Epamig (the Minas Gerais AgroFishing Research Company) pio­neered olivi­cul­tural research in Minas Gerais in the 1970s and has con­ducted a study on the genetic improve­ment and nat­ural selec­tion of eight Brazilian olive vari­eties, one of which is MGS Mariense, known as Maria da Fé, and is derived from the first Galega olive trees that were brought from Europe.

Epamig cer­ti­fied an oil made in Maria da Fé as the first olive oil made in Brazil from Brazilian-grown olives in 2018. Assoolive rep­re­sents the inter­ests of olive pro­duc­ers in Mantiqueira and is work­ing toward the cre­ation of a geo­graph­i­cal qual­ity indi­ca­tion for the oils pro­duced in Maria da Fé.

However, the Spanish vari­eties of Arbequina, Arbosana, Picual and Manzanilla are mostly grown in Brazil since they have adapted the best to the cli­mate and soils. Grappolo, Coratina, Frantoio and Koroneiki are also found through­out the coun­try.

Brazilian oils have already received numer­ous inter­na­tional awards for their qual­ity. Serra dos Garcias, Olivi, Borriello and Prosperato are some of the country’s pre­mium oil brands.

Fazenda Verde Oliva pro­duces a Brazilian extra virgin olive oil from organic and bio­dy­nam­i­cally-grown olives, one of the world’s very few bio­dy­namic extra virgin olive oils.

Even though olive trees were first brought to the coun­try in the colo­nial period, they did not pros­per and the gov­ern­ment did not try to fur­ther develop an olive oil indus­try, in order to favor Portuguese imports.

In the 1930s a Portuguese immi­grant brought olive trees to Maria da Fé, in the Serra da Mantiqueira, where the cooler cli­mate helped them to pros­per.

By the 1940s, the gov­ern­ment had begun to exper­i­ment with olive plant­i­ngs, but the lack of ade­quate stud­ies led to the loss of more than 300,000 trees, which were aban­doned because of inad­e­quate pro­duc­tion.

The meta­mor­pho­sis truly began in 2005 when the gov­ern­ment of Rio Grande do Sul decided to expand olive groves by cre­at­ing syn­er­gies with the state’s winer­ies. One of these was Miolo, with an olive grove that inspired a wealthy Brazilian restau­ra­teur to enter the olive busi­ness, paving the way for larger investors to enter the sector and expand plant­i­ngs.

Currently there are 16,000 acres of olive groves planted in Brazil. The Institute of Brazilian Oliviculture pre­dicts that this figure will increase to nearly 25,000 acres by 2020 and 50,000 acres by 2025.