Worldwide olive oil production is expected to rebound in the upcoming 2023/24 crop year, according to preliminary estimates by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported by Olive Oil Times.

Production was forecast to reach 3.2M tonnes in 2023/24, a 24% increase compared to last year’s historically poor harvest and almost level with the five-year average of 3.14M tonnes, according to the 17 May report.

The USDA put rising global yields mainly down to a significant rebound in the European Union (EU) – the world’s largest olive oil-producing region.

USDA has estimated that the EU would produce 2.03M tonnes in 2023/24, up from 1.50M tonnes in 2022/23 and slightly exceeding the five-year average of 2M tonnes.

“While the anticipated recovery will depend heavily on flowering conditions and precipitation levels in the spring and autumn, rising production in the bloc will likely be fuelled by many groves entering an ‘on-year’ in the olive trees’ natural alternate bearing cycle and new plantations entering production,” the USDA was quoted as saying.

In the context of olive oil production, the term ‘on year’ refers to a year in which olive trees produce a higher yield of olives. Olive trees have a natural cycle of alternating high and low production years, known as ‘on years’ and ‘off years’.

The USDA did not publish country-specific data for the EU forecast, Olive Oil Times wrote.

A rebound in production was also forecast in Tunisia, rising to an estimated 250,000 tonnes in 2023/24 from 180,000 tonnes in 2022/23 – almost 10% above the five-year average of 228,000 tonnes.

The USDA said its forecast of increased production in the North African country was due to many producers entering an ‘on-year’ and industry sources.

While production was expected to rise in the EU and Tunisia, the USDA forecast the yield would fall to 280,000 tonnes in Turkey in 2023/24, down from last year’s record level of 380,000 tonnes but still nearly 14% above the five-year average of 246,400 tonnes.

The USDA expected production to fall in the coming crop year with many producers entering an ‘off-year,’ although production was forecast to rise in the long term due to continued government efforts to plant more trees and promote more efficient agricultural practices, including mechanised harvests and drip irrigation.

“It is quite the challenge to prepare a forecast for olive oil at this point in time, especially given the nature of the crop,” USDA economist Gretchen Kuck told Olive Oil Times.

Along with improved production, the USDA forecast global olive oil consumption to rebound to 2.9M tonnes as “low carry-in from the current year limits total supplies in 2023/24”.

However, the department’s economists expected recovery of consumption would be slower in price-sensitive countries in the Middle East and North Africa, which continued to face high food inflation and more profitable export prices.

The USDA expected global exports to increase by 7% due to the production rebound and olive oil stocks to recover from last year’s low levels.

The EU is expected to lead this increase, with exports forecast to rise to 750,000 tonnes, up from 588,500 tonnes in 2022/23.

Exports in Turkey were expected to fall from their record-high levels of 2022/23 to 160,000 tonnes in 2023/24, although remaining well above the five-year average due to the upward trend in production compared to stable consumption.

The USDA expected US imports to remain unchanged at 400,000 tonnes, with the USA remaining the world’s largest importer, with about one-third of global olive oil trade.