Olive oil production is being disrupted due to adverse weather and other climate change factors, Eater reported on 24 March.
A risk analysis of climate change in Italy produced by the Euro-Mediterranean Center on Climate Change last year, suggested that changes were forecast to the regions where a bulk of the world’s olive oil was produced.
According to the analysis, in the future there will be a reduction in available water, more desertification, and a rise in hot and dry days throughout the year, with heavier rain when it did occur.
Researchers had already noted that annual rainfall in the southern Italian region of Calabria was decreasing.
Olive trees grow best in a Mediterranean climate, Eater wrote, where winters were cold – but not freezing – and summers were long and warm.
However, as specific locations shifted away from this climate and became less hospitable to olive trees, this could affect the availability of olive oil from these regions, the report said.
Italy produces about 17% of the world’s olive oil – second only to Spain – and almost 75% of Italian olive oil is produced in Calabria and Puglia, according to Eater.
On a global scale, olive farmers and olive oil producers were facing pressure from all angles, according to the report, with weather fluctuations and a heatwave in Greece, for example, affecting the country’s 2020 harvest.
Meanwhile, a storm at the beginning of this year in Spain had caused irreparable damage to olive crops in Madrid and the surrounding regions, Eater reported.
Global olive oil production in 2020 was at a four-year low, according to Olive Oil Times, with olive oil production up in only a few countries while facing serious declines in Palestine, Israel, Turkey and Italy.
The industry – estimated to be worth US$13bn in 2019 – was also being affected by another climate change factor that destroyed the fruit: pests.
In Italy, 2104 was remembered as “the black year of olives” by Luigi Ponti, a researcher with the Italian National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development (ENEA) and a research fellow with the Center for Analysis of Sustainable Ago-ecological Systems.
That year, olive trees had been ravaged by the Bactrocera oleae, or the olive fruit fly.
The fly pierced the olive fruit, burrowed in and laid eggs inside, and could ruin the whole harvest, he said.
“Temperature and humidity affect both the plant and the insect, and they are affected in different ways,” says Ponti, noting that the olive fruit fly problem extended far beyond Italy.
One study, which Ponti co-authored in 2009, had predicted that in California and Arizona, the flies would continue to thrive along the southern coast, where temperatures are mild and provide an ideal breeding ground.
As weather intensified in Italy, the report said the flies would be able to move into the warming northern regions, which were once too cold for them to reproduce, and out of the warmer regions in the south.
In 2014, Ponti co-authored another paper which found that varying yields and fly infestation levels would result in “economic winners and losers” as changing weather patterns intensified.
The study predicted that land where olives are grown will see a decline in area by “18% for the Iberian Peninsula, 21% for Italy and France, 23% for Greece, Turkey, and the Balkans, 2% for North Africa, and 80% for the Middle East.”