Oil

Tuscany Olive Harvest Rebounds with Better-Than-Expected Results

Tuscan olive oil pro­duc­ers are see­ing a bet­ter har­vest than expected, with their yield exceed­ing last sea­son’s har­vests and ini­tial esti­mates for this sea­son. In Tuscany, the new olive oil qual­ity is also reported to be very high. This result is widely attrib­uted to the rare pres­ence of the olive fruit fly, whose repro­duc­tion had been cur­tailed by the pro­longed higher-than-aver­age tem­per­a­tures.

The 2022/2023 cam­paign has begun under a pos­i­tive and com­fort­ing note. We can fore­see a final 15 to 20 per­cent increase in olive oil yield when com­pared to the last cam­paign,” Fabrizio Filippi, pres­i­dent of the Consortium for the pro­tec­tion of Tuscan PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) extra vir­gin olive oil, told Olive Oil Times.

Coming after many months of drought, which has been plagu­ing the entirety of Italy since the win­ter of 2021, this year’s August rain­fall in much of Tuscany has made the dif­fer­ence. Additionally, more pre­cip­i­ta­tion than nor­mal fell at the begin­ning of autumn in the cen­tral Italian region.

Such con­di­tions have con­tributed to restore the plants, which in some areas had already shown signs of water stress. Fruits were finally able to cor­rectly develop, pre­vent­ing qual­i­ta­tive abnor­mal­i­ties. Still, the sit­u­a­tion is not homoge­nous and pro­duc­tion has dropped in those areas where drought has been unleash­ing its effects,” Filippi noted.

According to the Tuscan expert, as the cli­mate changes, the many micro-regions in Tuscany will require ever more highly spe­cific con­di­tions to grow olives well. Having said this, we have seen a grow­ing har­vest in the most inter­nal areas and lower vol­umes in some coastal regions,” Filippi explained.

As with the whole Italian olive sec­tor, Tuscan olive oil pro­duc­ers are also cop­ing with the energy cri­sis and the spik­ing prices of raw mate­ri­als, con­di­tions exac­er­bated by infla­tion and the Russian war in Ukraine.

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To all of this we undoubt­edly have to add the envi­ron­men­tal sce­nario, with the quick and wor­ry­ing phe­nom­e­non of cli­mate change, whose effects are vis­i­ble in our daily life,” noted Filippi. Thermal and rain­fall anom­alies, and extreme events, have con­stantly char­ac­ter­ized every sin­gle olive har­vest sea­son since the last eight years or so,” he added.

One of the cru­cial aspects of the har­vest cam­paign for Tuscan extra vir­gin olive oil pro­duc­ers has been man­ag­ing the tem­per­a­ture of the fruits. As the har­vest began in a warmer-than-aver­age autumn, grow­ers warned that olive oil qual­ity could be jeop­ar­dized by exces­sive tem­per­a­tures.

We have made sig­nif­i­cant invest­ments to renew our olive milling facil­i­ties and that proved cru­cial in cop­ing with such higher than nor­mal tem­per­a­tures,” Gionni Pruneti, agron­o­mist and co-owner of Frantoio Pruneti, the Gold Award win­ner at the 2022 New York International Olive Oil Competition, told Olive Oil Times.

More specif­i­cally, Pruneti’s new mill included a refrig­er­at­ing line that takes care of both pre-cool­ing the new olives at opti­mal tem­per­a­tures and keep­ing the tem­per­a­ture con­sis­tent dur­ing the milling oper­a­tions.

During the whole extrac­tion process, as soon as we detect that tem­per­a­ture is ris­ing, we can imme­di­ately inter­vene to lower it and bring it back to our qual­ity stan­dards,” noted Pruneti.

Referring to the gov­ern­ing of cer­ti­fied Tuscan EVOO pro­duc­tion, Pruneti under­lined how we actu­ally main­tain oper­at­ing tem­per­a­tures lower than the prod­uct reg­u­la­tions. Such lower tem­per­a­tures are the most suit­able to extract from our fruits all their fla­vors and scents,” he added.

Pruneti noted a sat­is­fy­ing olive oil yield in terms of vol­ume and reported a higher qual­ity of the final prod­uct. When com­pared to the 2021, we undoubt­edly had larger vol­umes. The pro­por­tions of core, pulp and peel of the olives were cer­tainly bet­ter,” Pruneti said.

Tuscan PGI extra vir­gin olive oil is the most rec­og­niz­able of the 49 cer­ti­fied Italian olive oil pro­duc­ers. According to the lat­est Ismea/Qualivita data, approx­i­mately 20 per­cent of all Tuscan olive oil pro­duc­tion hap­pens under the PGI dis­ci­pli­nary umbrella.

Regarding value, Tuscan PGI EVOOs rep­re­sent about 30 per­cent of cer­ti­fied EVOO pro­duc­tion in Italy. Tuscan EVOOs exports brought in €35 mil­lion of the total €66 mil­lion cer­ti­fied Italian EVOO export value.

According to Filippi, Tuscan olive oil pro­duc­tion shows some spe­cific vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties. For exam­ple, at least 30 per­cent of olive grow­ing hap­pens in remote areas, where it is tra­di­tion­ally asso­ci­ated with land­scap­ing rather than olive oil pro­duc­tion.

The [olive grow­ing] iden­tity card of Tuscany shows frag­ile and thin traits, so to speak, as one hectare is the aver­age sur­face of the farm which pro­duces on aver­age one litre of olive oil per plant. To this it must be added that approx­i­mately 30 per­cent of the olive groves end up aban­doned,” Filippi noted.

To bring new life to the region’s pro­duc­tion, Filippi noted how approx­i­mately 10 per­cent of the olive crop­land could be des­tined for more pro­duc­tive and mod­ern olive farm­ing mod­els, includ­ing inten­sive or high-den­sity olive groves.

Still, all vari­eties would have to be of Tuscan ori­gin and be part of the native regional germplasm in order to safe­guard the genetic, envi­ron­men­tal, land­scape and iden­tity her­itage,” Filippi said.

Filippi noted how some of the region’s mar­ket fragili­ties are related to the lack of knowl­edge among con­sumers of both qual­ity and the mean­ing of regional cer­ti­fi­ca­tions, such as Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) and PGI.

The lat­est offi­cial data com­ing from the Ministry of Agriculture, Food Sovereignty and Forestry, show that only 30 per­cent of con­sumers know what the offi­cial geo­graph­i­cal indi­ca­tions mean. Such infor­ma­tion impacts the pro­duc­t’s per­ceived value and, there­fore, its price and the asso­ci­ated profit mar­gins for the whole pro­duc­tion chain.

In this sce­nario, con­sumers are not suf­fi­ciently aware to direct their choice towards cer­ti­fied and high value olive oils. That means that the choice is always made start­ing from the prod­uct price, the cheaper one or the one that is approx­i­mately that,” Filippi noted.

According to Pruneti, high-end EVOO prices have not been sig­nif­i­cantly affected by the surg­ing prices of other olive oil grades sold on super­mar­ket shelves.

Of course, we also have to cope with the ris­ing prices of the raw mate­ri­als, so that a price rise has been inevitable. Still, our prices have grown way less than those of other prod­ucts or other qual­ity classes,” Pruneti spec­i­fied.

According to Pruneti, high-qual­ity olive oil pro­duc­ers might ben­e­fit from the new mar­ket real­ity. The high-end prod­uct might now inter­cept con­sumers who have seen the prices [of their usual prod­uct] go up, and they are there­fore tempted to spend a lit­tle more for a higher class prod­uct,” Pruneti added, hint­ing at the company’s many ini­tia­tives aimed to nur­ture con­sumers’ aware­ness of higher-qual­ity olive oils.

According to Filippi, the cur­rent olive oil price rise was largely cur­tailed in high-end olive oil by the ini­tia­tive of sin­gle pro­duc­ers. We ought to thank the com­pa­nies that took the chance and are going on the mar­ket with lower mar­gins in order to guar­an­tee their prod­uct be avail­able at afford­able prices,” he noted.

The cul­tural deficit shown by con­sumers must rep­re­sent the path towards a more and more intense, clear and com­mon com­mu­ni­ca­tion strat­egy aimed at both posi­tion­ing the cer­ti­fied prod­uct and to mark the dif­fer­ence with the other oils. All of this in order to try to dis­solve that chronic per­cep­tion of olive oil as a sim­ple com­mod­ity, devoid of any char­ac­ter­i­za­tion and per­son­al­iza­tion,” Filippi con­cluded.

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