Olive oil could soon become very scarce (and expensive) in Belgian stores, as the prolonged heat and drought are threatening the olive harvest in Spain and Italy this year.
In recent months, southern Europe has not been able to escape intense heat waves and prolonged drought, which have had a major impact on Spanish olive production: the harvest, which normally takes place just after the summer months, may be smaller and of lower quality than in previous years.
"If there is no temperature relief or rains in the coming weeks, this year’s olive harvest could be notably lower than previous ones," Spanish Agriculture Minister Luis Planas said in an interview. "The olives sector is very concerned about oil production."
He did not give an output estimate, but price analyst at market research group Mintec, Kyle Holland, estimated that it could be a drop of 25% to 30%, reports The Guardian.
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Spain is the largest olive oil producer in the world, as it accounts for half of global production. The reduced harvest, combined with the continued disrupted supply of sunflower oil from Ukraine due to Russia's invasion, means that the prices of vegetable oils "are expected to skyrocket," said Planas.
In the centre of the Spanish olive industry Jaén, prices for extra virgin and refined olive oil have already increased by 2.2% and 8.3%, respectively, compared to last year, according to figures from the International Olive Council.
Italian production also threatened
In Italy, olive farmers are also warning of production losses: the country is facing the biggest drought in 70 years and there has been hardly any rain since March – threatening not only olive oil but also risotto rice and passata supplies.
In Tuscany, it is feared that the loss in comparison to previous years will be 20% to 30%, although some olive growers are even talking about 50% to 60%. "We are already seeing some olive trees producing no fruit in Italy, which only happens when soil moisture levels are critically low," Holland of Mintec said.
"According to industry contacts, the lower production and, therefore, limited supply of olive oil is likely to cause prices to increase in the coming months," he said, adding that prices of Italian extra virgin olive oil are already up 28% on two years ago.
The drought is even forcing some olive growers to change their methods: with an improvised irrigation system spraying the olives with a minute amount of water, they are trying to save some of the harvest.