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Organic Farmers Cautiously Optimistic

Jun. 1, 2015
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.

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.

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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