Thursday, 6 November 2014

Disastrous Olive Harvest 2014

Photo : D. ŠTIFANIĆ,  Glas Istre

Most of us who live here in the Var (South-East part of France) no doubt will be aware that this year’s olive crop is looking extremely unhealthy, if there is one at all.  Many may also have heard that the Italian olive crop is suffering from a blight.  In fact the olive industry all around the northern part of the Mediterranean has been hit very hard this year – 80–90% of production has been lost.

In many areas the cause of this devastation is the Olive Fly (Bactrocera oleae or Dacus oleae) which has proliferated this year due to the climatic conditions – a mild Winter, damp Spring and cool Summer have meant that the fly has managed at least two life-cycles, thus causing the fruits to go bad and drop early.

In the latest InfOlive bulletin from Afidol – Association Française Interprofessionelle de l’Olive –  dated 24 October 2014, covering three regions : Languedoc-Roussillon, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, Rhône-Alpes.   >> Download (in French) here <<  they explain that there is little one can do now except to pick what remains and get them to the olive mill without delay.  Any time that the picked olives are left will result in rapid fermentation and mildew and will be rejected by the mill.  Most mills will be opening from around 10 November. 

The heavy rains of 3/4 November – reports of three months’ worth or rain fell in 36 hours – will have done little to help with the crop.  If there is any doubt about the quality of the olives, refer to the pictures in the bulletin and keep more damaged fruits (see picture 2) separate as they will produce a very acidic oil – for more information, speak to the moulin direct.  Sadly the resulting oil will not be of high quality because of the high water content.

In an open letter, the President of Afidol has likened the harvest this year to the terrible year of 1956 when tens of thousands of olive trees were lost when they froze in the hard Winter.  The effect on the economy will be considerable and he envisages that some producers and mills may go out of business.  On the positive side it is only the olives themselves that have been affected and it does not mean that the 2015 crop will suffer.  Indeed, he says that history has shown that the following year produces a bumper crop !

On a more sinister note, the problem in Italy is affecting the trees themselves.  In the southern-most region of Puglia a bacteria – Xylella fastidiosa – has been killing thousands of trees.  The origin is unknown but thought to have been brought in on Oleander plants, which it also affects.  The worry is that it will spread across the Mediterranean in plants originating from Italy.

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