Thursday, 19 October 2023, 08:00
Olive oil, a staple food and intrinsic part of Mediterranean culture, has become a luxury item in the last year with prices leaping higher than ten euros per litre.
Unfortunately, the first official forecasts of the Junta de Andalucía for the 2023/2024 olive crop season do not offer any hope of a short-term reduction in prices and predict another black season for oil production in Malaga province.
For this season, the harvest is estimated at 31,000 tonnes - an increase of 2.3% compared to the previous one. "It is an improvement within the ruin," said Benito Avilés, president of the Campillos cooperative.
The predicted slight increase in production is still down 45.5% compared to the average recorded over the last five years with the drought being to blame. According to the regional Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development, the rains at the end of spring and beginning of summer helped to improve the size of the olives, although not enough.
"The olive tree can hold out until mid-September but, from then on, the trees need water," said the president of farming association Asaja, Baldomero Bellido. "We are going to continue paying high prices for oil," he added.
Experts agree that the next harvest will once again be ruinous for the sector. Perfecto Matas, owner of an olive farm in the Antequera area, said: "The forecasts are somewhat better than last season. But if last year we had the worst crop of the century, now we will have the second worst."
Matas said that the olive groves have been seriously affected by the lack of water and pointed out that the "water stress" suffered by the trees is causing a chain reaction. "The olive trees are less loaded, which also means that we need fewer workers for harvesting."
The olive tree is used to high temperatures and a lack of rainfall. But the unusually long months of drought are breaking their natural cycle. For a good harvest, it is essential that it rains a lot at the beginning of the year so that the blossom can develop well. After the summer, the fruit must receive sufficient water in October and November. This has not been the case.
The outlook is negative throughout Andalucía. Looking at oil production in Jaén, the predicted 215,000 tonnes are better than last season's 200,000 tonnes, but represent 52.8% less than the average of recent years. This implies a generalised drop in production at the Andalusian level. Malaga is in fifth position in comparison with the other provinces. Cadiz comes last, with an estimated production of just 7,100 tonnes.
The weather forecasts are not encouraging either. The rain, even if it arrives, will come late. "We are heading for a crop that is just as bad as last year. The olives are wrinkled and not the right size," sources from Dcoop told SUR. The last weekend has only added to the unease. The forecasts for Malaga province have not produced the expected rainfall, with only 1.5mm transpiring.
The price of olive oil soared in August by 52.5% compared to the same month in 2022, its highest year-on-year rise in 21 years, according to data from the CPI statistics published on Tuesday by the Spain's INE national statistics institute.
From March 2021 to August this year, the price of olive oil has risen by 114.8%, more than doubling. This trend of steep price rises is still continuing. Consumer organisation Facua said recently that, apart from the drought, the high prices were also due to speculation. Facua also found that the same bottle of extra virgin olive oil can cost 45% more depending on the store. Its report is based on the analysis of 144 varieties of oil from 50 different brands on sale in eight large supermarkets.
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