Unseasonal weather increases Olive Oil prices - WFSB 3 Connecticut

Unseasonal weather increases Olive Oil prices

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Mediterranean olive oil has been increasing in price due to unseasonable European weather and insect infestations.

High spring temperatures, a cool summer and abundant rain this autumn are seriously affecting the olive harvest in some key regions of Portugal, Italy, Spain and France.

Those conditions have also helped the proliferation of the olive fly and olive moth, which devastate olive harvests.

The shortfall could translate into higher shelf prices for some olive oils and is dealing another blow to southern Europe's bruised economies as they limp out of a protracted financial crisis.

"It will be a significant increase, but the consumer is used to that oscillation," said Joaquim Freire de Andrade, president of growers' association Olivum in Portugal's southern Alentejo region, the country's olive heartland.

Olive oil is big business in southern European Union countries.

They are the source of more than 70 percent of the world's olive oil, bringing export revenue of almost 2.2 billion US dollars last year.

The United States imported just over 800 million US dollars of that.

For some European growers, this year's harvest is a disaster.

In Beja, 112 miles southeast of the Portuguese capital Lisbon, producers deploy satellite technology on their high-tech farms these days, but after generations they are still fighting age-old enemies: the olive fly and a fruit fungus that turns olives brown and makes them shrivel like prunes. Both blights have struck hard this year.

Portuguese growers are doing what the French have done: harvesting earlier and faster than usual before any more olives are lost.

Since mid-October, a month earlier than usual, crews have been hastening through the long ranks of olive trees that stretch to the horizon.

Though less damaged, the younger fruit also yields less oil.

Italy's 2014 olive harvest was declared by both producers and experts as the worst in history, due to adverse climatic conditions which helped the olive fly proliferate thus destroying the olives before they could be harvested.

Augusto Spagnoli has an organic olive farm from Nerola, in the renowned Sabine hills area north of Rome, famous for its centuries old olive trees, and its fragrant and tasty olive oil.

But this year his crop was hit badly by the bad climate, similar to a northern European one, with plentiful summer rainfall and low temperatures.

"For this reason olive's parasites had the perfect climate to reproduce," said Spagnoli as he stood amid his 10,000 trees, some of which are more than 1,600 years old.

His harvest was down by 20 percent and the quality is poorer, he said.

Italy's grower consortium Unaprol declared 2014 the worst year in memory, and Pietro Sandali, the chairmain of Unaprol, said many olive cultivators decided to let the 2014/2015 crop go entirely.

Italy is the world's second largest producer of olive oil after Spain, averaging between 430,000 tons to 500,000 tons per year.

This year, the total is expected to fall below 300,000 tons.

Olive production is a 2 billion euro a year industry in Italy.

In Spain, the world's biggest producer, the young farmers' association Asaja says 2014 is "another disaster" after a calamitous harvest two years ago.

Spain's output is forecast to plunge by more than 50 percent, with a drop of at least 60 percent in the southern Andalucia region.

Several factors have combined to hurt Spain.

Trees are exhausted after last year's bumper harvest. Also, unusually high spring temperatures choked flowering.

On top of that, some producers are battling swarms of olive flies and moths.

Consumers are already paying more for their olive oil, Asaja's president says, though he doesn't anticipate a hefty price jump.

This small shop in Madrid specializes in olive oils and olive oil related products.

It has been open for three years and sells olive oil from the Extremadura region.

Shop owner Mariano Villanueva says he will try to keep the prices down by taking a hit in his profit margins.

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