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Food

Warmer Weather, Fires Imperil Greece’s “Green Gold” – Olive Oil

December 16, 2021

It’s arguably the symbol of Greece, and perhaps its most precious product, but now olive oil production is being jeopardized by warmer temperatures and variations in climate conditions.

In a feature, the Reuters news agency noted that this will not be a good harvest year for olives, which require huge numbers to create just a small batch and with so much competition between major producers and farmers.

One of them, Michalis Antonopoulos said he knew months before the harvest began in November that 2021 would be almost fallow after his trees didn’t fully blossom when the previous winter wasn’t cold and wet enough.

Then unseasonably warm spring weather that reached 100 degrees Fahrenheit damaged the flowers that become olives – followed by an even hotter brutal summer that dried up trees and saw hundreds of thousands detroyed by wildfires.

Standing in his grove in Kalamata, Greece’s best-known olive producing region, among trees that are hundreds of years old, he pointed to half-empty branches, with small or shriveled olives, or rotting, attacked by a fruit fly.

“We’re witnessing phenomena and problems that we did not see 20 years ago,” said Antonopoulos, who heads the local olive growers’ cooperative, estimating a 50 percent drop in regional output.

Greece is the world’s third biggest producer of olive oil, and the Greek variety is particularly sought-after for its high quality, known as “extra virgin,” and Kalmata is the king of the prized regions for producing it.

Bottles of Kalamata oil are found in restaurants as far away as Japan but farmers worry that if yields continue to decline, they will not be able to meet demand, undercutting the local economy, the report noted.

“This year has shown us that the tree cannot cope under difficult weather conditions,” Antonopoulos said. “This is a classic example of the environmental change we’re going through.”

Greece produced 275,000 tons of olive oil in 2020-21 and more than half went abroad, making it the European Union’s fourth biggest exporter but it’s expected to fall to 230,000 tons through 2022.

Stavros Vemmos, an olive expert and professor of pomology, the science of fruit-growing, said high temperatures and water shortages were already creating problems in Greek olive groves. “The phenomena of climate change go beyond the limits of olive cultivation,” he said.

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