` Organic Farmers Cautiously Optimistic

Producer Profiles

Organic Farmers Cautiously Optimistic

Jun. 1, 2015
By Ylenia Granitto

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2014 was the annus hor­ri­bilis for Ital­ian EVOO pro­duc­ers. Salento plagued by an out­break of Xylella fas­tidiosa, and the rest of the Ital­ian regions were attacked by the olive fruit fly, not to men­tion dif­fu­sion of Pea­cock spot and Ver­ti­cil­lium — all aided by cli­matic fac­tors. The result was in most cases a har­vest of dam­aged olives, pro­duc­tion of oil with low polyphe­no­lic con­tent and often acid­ity over the legal limit for the extra vir­gin grade.

In short, it was a har­vest to for­get. How­ever, we have rea­son to believe that — knock on (olive) wood — the 2015 har­vest 2015 will be bet­ter. Pro­duc­ers are more pre­pared to fight fly attacks effec­tively (they can already expect it con­sid­er­ing another mild win­ter) and they can count on a ben­e­fi­cial effect of the nat­ural bio­log­i­cal cycle that sug­gests a bet­ter har­vest will fol­low a poor one.

I met some organic EVOO pro­duc­ers, since they were the most dam­aged last year, to under­stand their impres­sions about the last har­vest and the next one. I started from the south, in Apu­lia, and I reached Lig­uria, going through Lazio and Umbria.

Andrea Ser­rilli

Andrea Ser­rilli super­vises a fam­ily farm that has pro­duced oil since 1855 on Gargano promon­tory in Apu­lia: 30,000 trees of Ogliarola Gar­gan­ica, Coratina and Lec­cino and, more recently, inten­sive plant­i­ngs of Arbe­quina, Koroneiki and Arbosana cul­ti­vars.

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Andrea Serrilli

Olives are crushed in a recently-built pri­vate mill. The key is con­stant mon­i­tor­ing. Dur­ing last year, thanks to traps, we imme­di­ately real­ized the fly would have con­sti­tuted a prob­lem. We started using organic insec­ti­cides in June, then we reused them in August and Sep­tem­ber. Although they were sub­jected to washout due to rains and most of prod­uct was lost, if we had not imple­mented insec­ti­cide action we would have lost the entire pro­duc­tion,” Andrea con­sid­ers.

How­ever, despite a loss of 50 per­cent of pro­duc­tion and lower polyphe­no­lic con­tent, Ser­il­li’s prod­uct was good enough to win com­pe­ti­tions (Ercole Oli­vario and Biol). The spring bloom is slightly delayed due to a cool cli­mate, but Andrea is opti­mistic. We must be alert and, if June is too mild, our first task will be to con­tain fly attacks. Now, con­di­tions of olive trees in full bloom look very good,” he con­cludes.

Fil­ippo Pom­pili

The Last oil cam­paign was the worst ever, with a drop in pro­duc­tion between 40 per­cent and 60 per­cent all over cen­tral Italy. Usual treat­ments were almost use­less last year at the time that we real­ized the size of the prob­lem,” Fil­ippo Pom­pili admits. He man­ages a com­pany with his sis­ter Car­olina in Palom­bara Sabina, Latium. 5,000 plants of 40 to 60 years old and only one thou­sand trees of Car­bon­cella, Rosci­ola, Fran­toio, Lec­cino and Pen­dolino that have been selected and ded­i­cated to oil pro­duc­tion. Their dis­tri­b­u­tion points to a mar­ket niche: pri­vate com­pa­nies that give EVOO as gifts. Pom­pili sends his olive oil around the world.

Filippo Pompili and Family

Despite the poor har­vest, they man­aged to achieve awards at the national level (Two Leaves Gam­bero Rosso ). This shows that dif­fi­cul­ties have not dis­cour­aged the effort of pro­duc­ers to reach high qual­ity. In June we will start to use habit­ual organic treat­ments. Now, hop­ing for good weather con­di­tions, we are opti­mistic about next har­vest,” Fil­ippo says, deter­mined.

Raf­faella Spada

On another stopover in Cen­tral Italy I meet Raf­faella Spada, who runs the fam­ily farm Le Vie Bianche with her sis­ter Daniela, pro­duc­ing oil since the 1960s in a beau­ti­ful estate in the coun­try­side of Città della Pieve, Umbria.

Raffaella Spada at Le Vie Bianche

They started with 300 plants, now they take care of 1,400 olive trees includ­ing Fran­toio, Lec­cino, Moraiolo and Dolce Agogia (a native cul­ti­var) sur­rounded by woods 400 meters above sea level. Raf­faella is a sailor and brings her EVOO around the ocean, deliv­er­ing it to clients directly.

For her olive grove, she uses nat­ural fer­til­iz­ers and green manure alter­na­tively, but last year every effort was defeated by the fly and pro­duc­tion was null. I had never even seen flies before last year since our olive grove is located in a cli­mat­i­cally strate­gic posi­tion,” Raf­faella says.

She comes from great pro­duc­tions: in 2011 and 2013 her EVOO achieved awards in national and inter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tions (Con­cours Inter­na­tional des Huiles du Monde and Olio Cap­i­tale). At present, the state of her plants look good and she is more res­olute than ever to repeat past suc­cesses: I’m sure our EVOO will be great again and can’t wait to bring it on the ocean.”

Franco Fer­rarese

My last stopover is in Lig­uria, province of Impe­ria, at Tèra de Prie. A cer­ti­fied organic farm man­aged by Franco Fer­rarese and his son Nicola, with 3,500 Tag­giasca olive trees arranged on char­ac­ter­is­tic ter­raced dry stone walls next to their fam­ily mill, 300 – 400 meters above sea level.

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Franco Ferrarese and his son Nicola

Last year fly attacks reduced pro­duc­tion by 70 per­cent. Nev­er­the­less, qual­ity has been pre­served thanks to the use of tra­di­tional organic tech­niques to com­bat the fly. The main weapon was kaolin, which allowed us to obtain a high-qual­ity EVOO,” Nicola reveals.

In these days, the plants present a high num­ber of flow­ers that are start­ing to bloom. We count on suit­able weather con­di­tions for pol­li­na­tion”.

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