Olive growers experience ‘worst year in memory’; higher prices expected
BEJA, Portugal — If your favorite bottle of Mediterranean olive oil starts costing more, blame unseasonable European weather — and tiny insects.
High spring temperatures, a cool summer and abundant rain are taking a big bite out of the olive harvest in some key regions of Italy, Spain, France and Portugal. Those conditions have helped the proliferation of the olive fly and olive moth, which are calamitous blights.
The shortfall could translate into higher shelf prices for some olive oils and is dealing another blow to southern Europe’s bruised economies as they limp out of a protracted financial crisis.
“The law of supply and demand is a basic law of the market,” said Joaquim Freire de Andrade, president of growers’ association Olivum in Portugal’s southern Alentejo region, the country’s olive heartland. “It’s a tough year.”
Olive oil is big business in southern European Union countries. They are the source of more than 70 percent of the world’s olive oil, bringing export revenue of almost 1.8 billion euros ($2.2 billion) last year. The United States imported just over $800 million of that.
For some European growers, this year’s harvest is a bust.
In Spain, the world’s biggest producer, the young farmers’ association Asaja said 2014 is “another disaster” after a devastating harvest two years ago. Spain’s output is forecast to plunge by more than 50 percent, with a drop of at least 60 percent in the southern Andalucia region.
Several factors have combined to hurt Spain. Trees are exhausted after last year’s bumper harvest. Unusually high spring temperatures choked flowering. On top of that, some producers are battling swarms of olive flies and moths.
Consumers are paying 1 euro a liter more for their olive oil, said Asaja president Luis Carlos Valero, who said he doesn’t anticipate a hefty price jump.
For celebrated Italian olive oil producers, “this is the worst year in memory,” said Pietro Sandali, head of the Italian olive growers’ consortium, Unaprol. The group expects a 35 percent drop in national production this year.
After heavy spring and summer rain, some growers didn’t bother to harvest their meager crop. For some who did, the volume is low, and the quality is poor.
“This crop is not to be remembered. This is a crop to be forgotten in every aspect,” said Augusto Spagnoli, an organic olive grower from Nerola, about 50 kilometers from Rome.