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.

By Daniel Dawson
Jan. 16, 2020 15:36 UTC

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 Also: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, 48 per­cent of respon­dents cited cli­mate change as 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, 28 per­cent of farm­ers cited the olive fruit fly as a 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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