Business

Olive Oil Times Survey Shows a Better Harvest, While Challenges Persist

Producers around the world were asked to rate this year's harvest and share their concerns. Climate change, low prices and a lack of consumer knowledge are at the top of their minds.

Jan. 16, 2020
By Daniel Dawson

Recent News

In spite of extreme weather and low olive oil prices, 62 per­cent of respon­dents to the Olive Oil Times 2019 Har­vest Sur­vey reported above-aver­age to excel­lent yields.

An even larger num­ber of pro­duc­ers — 85 per­cent — rated the qual­ity of the oil that they pro­duced either above aver­age or excel­lent.

With an aver­age rat­ing of 68 out of 100 for quan­tity and 82 for qual­ity, pro­duc­ers widely acknowl­edged that 2019 was a bet­ter year than 2018 when the aver­age rat­ing for quan­tity was 54 and 74 for qual­ity.

All the olive oil pro­duc­ers are very shocked and afraid of the future, because of cli­mate change.- A farmer in Chalkidiki, Greece

How­ever, this year’s improved qual­ity and yields did not come with­out its own chal­lenges. A year of extreme weather con­di­tions played out across the Mediter­ranean basin and the United States, with one in four farm­ers say­ing poor weather affected their har­vest.

The sea­son was affected by a cold May, and a hot and rain­less June, July, August and Sep­tem­ber,” one Ital­ian olive farmer said. The olives were for­tu­nately healthy. Unfor­tu­nately, between Octo­ber and Novem­ber, it rained a lot and a lot of wind blew. Bad luck.”

Olive Oil Times 2019 Har­vest Sur­vey

Respon­dents in Croa­tia, Italy, Spain, Tunisia, Turkey and the United States reported that exces­sive heat, cold and untimely freezes, impacted their har­vests.

See more: 2019 Har­vest News

Thirty-four per­cent of respon­dents said they were affected by exces­sive heat, while 13 per­cent reported being impacted by exces­sive cold and freezes.

Mean­while, farm­ers in Croa­tia, France, Greece, Italy and Turkey said they suf­fered both from drought (20 per­cent) or too much rain (17 per­cent).

Over­all, 49 per­cent of respon­dents said cli­mate change was their biggest con­cern.

Olive Oil Times 2019 Har­vest Sur­vey

In Greece and espe­cially in Chalkidiki, we felt, for the first time, the results of the cli­mate change,” one pro­ducer said. A ter­ri­ble sum­mer hail­storm killed peo­ple, destroyed houses and knocked our olives off the trees just two months before har­vest­ing. The phe­nom­e­non was local and we man­aged to save some of our olive pro­duc­tion, but all the olive oil pro­duc­ers are very shocked and afraid of the future, because of cli­mate change.

Accord­ing to data recently released by the Euro­pean Union cli­mate obser­va­tory, 2019 was the sec­ond-hottest year on record on the planet and the hottest year ever in Europe.

Increas­ing global tem­per­a­tures played a part in the droughts that con­tinue to wreak havoc in Aus­tralia and cre­ated fuel for the fires that impacted olive grow­ers in both Cal­i­for­nia and Turkey.

The cli­mate is chang­ing, that’s for sure,” one Turk­ish pro­ducer said. These are the har­vests that our fathers (even grand­fa­thers) had never wit­nessed before.”

After cli­mate change-related issues, 33 per­cent of farm­ers cited the olive fruit fly as the sec­ond-largest fac­tor that affected their har­vests. For many, this did not come as a sur­prise as high humid­ity brought on by too much rain cre­ated the per­fect envi­ron­ment for the pests to pro­lif­er­ate.

Farm­ers in Croa­tia, France, Greece, Italy, Spain, Tunisia, Turkey and the United States suf­fered dam­age to their crops from the fruit fly. Many of the same respon­dents also reported they were impacted by too much rain.

Olive Oil Times 2019 Har­vest Sur­vey

In order to pre­vent olive fly attacks on our organic farm, we started early with har­vest­ing,” one Greek pro­ducer said. The down­side of this being that the envi­ron­men­tal tem­per­a­ture where pro­hib­i­tive for extra vir­gin olive oil unless you find a cool stor­age space.”

How­ever, in some regions, the fruit fly man­aged to pro­lif­er­ate, even after some parts of Europe’s Mediter­ranean Basin expe­ri­enced their high­est tem­per­a­tures ever recorded.

The fly arrived early, despite the drought and the new high tem­per­a­tures, attack­ing orchards with low loads,” one French pro­ducer said. Many pro­duc­ers have effec­tively aban­doned plant pro­tec­tion.”

Olive Oil Times 2019 Har­vest Sur­vey

Even with high lev­els of con­cern about the olive fruit fly, only four per­cent of respon­dents said their har­vests were impacted by Xylella fas­tidiosa.

Aside from cli­matic and envi­ron­men­tal dif­fi­cul­ties, 29 per­cent of olive farm­ers said they were most con­cerned with labor dif­fi­cul­ties. In Croa­tia, France, Greece, Italy, Tunisia, Turkey and the United States farm­ers reported hav­ing trou­ble either con­tract­ing mills or hir­ing crews to help har­vest the olives.

Con­di­tions were excel­lent due to above-aver­age rain­fall and not overly exces­sive heat dur­ing the sum­mer,” one Ital­ian pro­ducer said. Har­vest con­di­tions were ideal, but due to labor issues, we were not able to har­vest 100 per­cent of the fruit.”

In the United States, sev­eral pro­duc­ers cited high labor costs as impact­ing their bot­tom line and cre­at­ing logis­ti­cal dif­fi­cul­ties when it came time to har­vest.

Being an organic olive farm in Cal­i­for­nia for 20-plus years, the con­tin­u­ally increas­ing cost in labor to hand-pick our olives is enor­mous, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to make any kind of profit on our crop,” one pro­ducer said. Sad, but true.”

Once all of the olives were har­vested and the result­ing oils bot­tled, the con­cerns for pro­duc­ers did not go away. Thirty-eight per­cent of farm­ers said that they were most affected by low mar­ket prices, which have impacted olive oil pro­duc­ers across the Mediter­ranean as well as in the United States.

Victor Forti, Mancha Real, Spain (Photo: Pablo Esparza for Olive Oil Times)

The main rea­sons for the per­sis­tently low prices have been large olive oil stocks and steadily increas­ing global pro­duc­tion, which is jux­ta­posed with fairly steady con­sump­tion. In short, sup­ply is grow­ing and demand is not.

Part of the rea­son global olive oil pro­duc­tion is increas­ing at a faster rate than con­sump­tion is due to the increas­ing num­ber of high-den­sity (SHD) olive farms in coun­tries such as Spain and Por­tu­gal.

Prices are crazy, new super high-den­sity olive groves com­ing into full pro­duc­tion in Por­tu­gal are dri­ving prices down to unsus­tain­able num­bers,” one pro­ducer said. Tra­di­tional grow­ers who did not invest in qual­ity and prod­uct dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion will be hit hard.”

Another fac­tor that is dri­ving olive oil prices down is the abil­ity of big com­pa­nies to earn prof­its by sell­ing large quan­ti­ties of olive oil at razor-thin mar­gins, a busi­ness tac­tic unavail­able to small pro­duc­ers.

It’s get­ting tough for the smaller fam­ily pro­duc­ers due to large com­mer­cial com­pa­nies set­tling in Cal­i­for­nia and dri­ving the prices down,” one pro­ducer said. We can’t afford to com­pete with their ridicu­lously low prices.”

While most ana­lysts in the indus­try expect con­sump­tion to increase slowly over the com­ing decade, 39 per­cent of pro­duc­ers are con­cerned that a lack of con­sumer knowl­edge is what is keep­ing con­sump­tion growth down.

There is a need to edu­cate both small pro­duc­ers and cus­tomers about how to make qual­ity olive oil and how to buy it,” one Ital­ian pro­ducer said.


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