Australian wildfires impact olive harvest

Australia’s unprecedentedly large wildfires have largely left olive groves undamaged but could have unforeseen effects on the upcoming harvest, reported Olive Oil Times on 13 January.

“The only physical damage to a grove occurred in South Australia and that wasn’t badly burned,” Australian Olive Association (AOA) CEO Greg Seymour said.

However, he added that he had not heard back from every grower in affected areas and pointed out that fires were continuing to burn across the country.

While it appeared unlikely that Australia’s 2020 olive harvest would be directly impacted by the fires, other factors – such as the country’s long and persistent drought and the massive exodus of insects and other animals from fire-struck areas – could have an effect, Seymour said.

“We’ve seen olive groves with quite high levels of pests, such as lacewing, that normally wouldn’t occur at these types of levels and we’re yet to see the repercussions of this type of migration on the olive groves.”

Seymour also warned that the peak fire season was about to begin in Australia, meaning active wildfires could become larger and new wildfires would inevitably start.

“Wildfires have many points of impact on horticultural businesses,” Steve Milton, the president of the Western Australian Olive Council, told Olive Oil Times. “Topsoil, compost and mulches are impacted seriously through the loss of microorganisms and the microbiotics essential for building a soil ecology that can sustain plants.”

Milton also pointed out that fighting wildfires required vast amounts of water usually coming from rivers and local dams at the expense of agriculture.

Olive Oil Times wrote that Australia’s wildfires were a symptom of a much larger problem for farmers across Australia – not enough rainfall.

According to Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology (BOM), 2019 was both the hottest and driest year on record for the country.