2014 Olive Oil Crops Devastated
News reports on the 2014 European olive oil harvest (the fruits of which are hitting the shelves now…maybe) are not good. “A Harvest to Forget,” and “Worst Year in Recent History,” are just a few of the doom and gloom headlines circulating. At a dinner with Farbrizio Nencioni of Agricola San Felice (where I had the pleasure of tasting some of his exceptional Tuscan wines), I asked about getting my hands on a bottle of his estate-grown extra virgin olive juice. He said that if he still had some 2013 he’d send it my way (which, I’m happy to report, he did), but 2014 was likely going to be a write-off.
A combination of factors resulted in a perfect storm of badness for the Italian olive oil industry. Drought, rain, cold, heat, bacterial infections, insect infestations, hail, and an influx of (believe it or not) starlings, teamed up to lay waste to much of Italy’s olive crop. Spain, the world’s largest producer of EVOO was also affected by bad weather, as were France and Portugal, though most of Greece, mercifully, was spared.
So what does this mean for you, the lover of top-quality EVOO? Well, if you believe the majority of press reports, the cost of the stuff is going to go through the roof. Now, any critical thinker will probably agree that press reports have a tendency to paint every canvas a single colour. And bad news stories for whatever reason always seem to get favoured over, if not good news stories, then at least balanced ones. Skeptical of the mainstream opinions, I turned to Dolores Smith of The Olivar Corp., my “go to” for the real inside scoop on the EVOO industry. She offered the following observations when it comes to the situation affecting olive oil from Spain. Perhaps some of her reasoning might apply to Italy as well.
“Have articles and blogs used a ’broad brush’ reporting approach without taking into account the subtleties of a complex olive oil industry in different countries? Yes!
“In my opinion, from information gathered from speaking to associations in Spain, as well as to my producers, the ‘olive oil crisis’ and ‘black year for olive oil’ reporting has been too simplistic and an exaggeration in relation to Spanish olive oil.”
Smith sets the record straight by offering up a few facts that may have otherwise gone unreported.
“In Spain several factors come into play – volume of production and geography. The 2013 harvest in Spain was huge, accounting for 56 per cent of the world’s total olive oil volume. The normal cycle of fruit trees is to produce a smaller crop the following year. So, yes, the 2014 yield was lower, but this isn’t necessarily because bad weather affected all of the country’s diverse growing areas. It’s just part of the normal sequence of things.” “Since Spain has very diverse climatic zones and micro-climates, not all regions were hit by bad weather.”
Smith also notes that the main areas in Spain affected by adverse weather were in the southern regions. Citing the Spanish newspaper El Pais, she states: “Yes, the south produces the majority of Spanish olive oil, but it also produces a significant amount of mass market quality and sold bulk to large food distributors. There were no additional layers of major changes in insect or disease problems in Spain, aside from the high spring temperatures at the time of flowering, and, later, storms in later fruit development stages. From my experience, so far, there has been no major issue with all premium producers throughout Spain. None of the premium producers that The Olivar Corp imports from have raised prices for the premium grade oil; none have told me there will be problems with supply. Interestingly, the producer of the premium line organic Rincon and Parqueoliva Gold Series (its conventional production premium brand) have raised pricing for the high-volume five-litre PETs used in commercial kitchens, but not for its premium line.”
Smith concludes that raising prices for premium EVOO would be a “last resort,” and discourages using the “bad harvest excuse” to raise shelf prices automatically. Consumers need to be wary, but they don’t need to panic.
For additional information on factors that may affect future pricing, visit: http://www.theolivarcorp.com/blog/