The current drought in Europe is the most severe the region has faced for 500 years, Olive Oil Times reported the European Commission’s Joint Research Center as saying.
With western and central Europe recording virtually no rainfall in the past two months, the centre warned that conditions were likely to worsen over the next three months, the 18 August report said.
“We haven’t analysed fully [this year’s drought] because it is still ongoing, but based on my experience, I think that this is perhaps even more extreme than 2018,” Andrea Toreti, a senior researcher at the European Drought Observatory, was quoted as saying at a conference in August.
“Just to give you an idea, the 2018 drought was so extreme that, looking back at least the last 500 years, there were no other events similar to the drought of 2018, but this year I think it is really worse than 2018,” he added.
Officials at Europe’s leading science and knowledge service estimated that 47% of the 27-member EU was at risk of being impacted by the drought, with farmers across four of the continent’s largest olive oil-producing countries among the most severely affected.
Taken together France, Italy, Portugal and Spain had produced 88% of the EU’s olive oil in 2021/22, the report said, and had felt the impacts of an unusually dry winter and spring followed by several extreme heatwaves.
In Spain, the world’s largest olive oil-producing country by a significant margin, the country’s reservoirs are at just 40% of normal capacity, according to the report, with officials responding by introducing water restrictions.
In Andalusia, the drought was particularly severe, Olive Oil Times wrote, with local reservoirs at 25% capacity and underground aquifers and natural bodies of surface water also running low.
Olive growers in the region had warned that the harvest from rainfed groves would be likely to be less than 20% of the average of the previous half decade, the report said, with yields from irrigated groves also expected to fall by more than 50%.
The Association of Young Farmers and Ranchers (Asaja) had predicted that Spain would produce 1M tonnes of olive oil in the 2022/23 crop year, the lowest total since 2013/14, the report said.
In Portugal, rainfed groves – which represent 30% of all Portuguese olive groves – were hardest hit by the drought and expected to see significant production declines, Olive Oil Times wrote.
France is also facing its “most severe” drought on record, according to the report, with producers expecting to see a 50% drop in olive oil production due to the drought.
Meanwhile, drought and poor infrastructure had led Italy’s agriculture minister to warn parliament that one-third of the country’s agricultural production was at risk of failing, the report said, with conditions in the southern Italian regions of Puglia, Calabria and Sicily expected to result in olive oil production dropping by a third.