Greece Ends a Disappointing Olive Oil Season

Economy, Environment

The country’s olive oil output is almost 50 percent lower than last year, leading to record-high prices and a market looking for balance.

The final numbers for the ‘off-year’ season in Greece, which was affected by bad weather, show that the country’s olive oil production will be less than the initial forecast of 200,000 tons, reaching between 150,000 and 170,000 tons of olive oil.

The European Commission’s production data also show a poor olive oil crop of 175,000 tons, the lowest in the last six years and a sharp contrast from last year’s exceptional yield of about 340,000 tons.

“This has been one of the worst seasons in the last 30 years,” said Periklis Tsoukalas, a producer and miller from the Ilia region in the Peloponnese. “The initial estimate of 17,000 tons of olive oil in the region should be lowered to around 14,000 tons.”

“Besides the reduced quantity, only 70 percent of the newly extracted olive oil qualifies as extra virgin here due to problems with the olive fruit fly,” he added. “The pesticides used cannot combat the pest effectively.”

Producers in other regions also faced very low outputs.

“We didn’t get less olive oil this year; we got none,” said Yiannis Souridis of the agricultural association of Potos-Theologos on the Aegean island of Thassos. “Our association produced 1,100 tons of olive oil last year. This year, however, we produced only 50 tons. You can see the difference.”

Nikos Koutsoukos, a quality consultant and olive oil taster, explained that the reasons behind the gap between the initial and final olive oil production forecasts were related to the performance of the olive fruits and unpredictable weather during the harvest.

“When they were milled, the olives did not perform as expected,” Koutsoukos told Olive Oil Times. “In simple terms, a kilogram of olives produced less olive oil than producers expected.”

He also said that another factor was the sudden weather events, such as hailstorms, that damaged the olive trees in some areas and caused more olives to fall before they were ripe.

Koutsoukos, who has a chemistry background and over 25 years of experience in the Greek olive oil sector, gave an overview of the olive oil production in the main regions of the country and pointed out a significant decline in most of them.

He said that Greece would produce only about 150,000 tons of olive oil this year, which is almost half of what it produced last year.

He added that in the northern regions of the Peloponnese peninsula, the production would be only about 20 to 30 percent of what it was last year. He said that many olive oil mills in these regions did not operate this season because there were not enough olives to process.

He continued that the situation was better in the south and southwest of the peninsula, where the regions of Messenia, Ilia and Laconia would produce about 50 percent of what they did last year.

In 2022/23, the Peloponnese produced more than 100,000 tons of olive oil, which was almost a third of the total national production.

Koutsoukos also confirmed the drastic drop in production in Crete, which is a major center of the Greek olive oil industry in normal times.

He said that he had recently visited the island and saw a sharp decrease of 60 to 70 percent in production in most areas. However, he said that in Chania, the production figures were slightly better, with an expected yield of about 17,000 tons compared to 28,000 tons last year.

Mamidakis, from the local department of agriculture, said that they expected to get 60 percent of what they got last year. He said that in other regions [in Crete], the production drop would be higher this season.

According to other industry experts on the island, the production would barely reach 30,000 tons compared to 130,000 tons produced in 2022/23.

Other experts in the industry on the island agree that production will barely reach 30,000 tons, a sharp drop from 130,000 tons in 2022/23.

Koutsoukos also reported that in northern Greece, where olive trees grow mainly in coastal areas due to the harsh winters, olive oil production is also very low and will likely not surpass 30 percent of the previous year’s output.

“We will have more accurate numbers for the whole country when we receive the official estimates from the regional agricultural departments,” Koutsoukos said.

Regarding quality, he noted that it remained high in most parts of the country despite worries over the effects of pests and diseases.

“The quality of this season’s olive oil is high, although we had some concerns at the start of the harvest about issues caused by the olive fruit fly and the gloeosporium,” he said.

“However, the weather conditions during the harvest season helped to reduce any serious impact of pathogens on the olive oil Greece produced this year,” Koutsoukos said. “We only had some cases of the fly in Crete and occasionally in mainland Greece, which only caused minor problems.”

Koutsoukos said that, despite the lack of land workers, producers across the country hurried to harvest their olives due to the high price extra virgin olive oil can command.

“However, such high prices can hurt the product itself in the long run,” he said. “High-quality extra virgin olive oil, for example, could become a luxury food product only for those who can afford it.”

“In my view, the whole world is moving towards a time when top-quality foods, such as extra virgin olive oil, will become very expensive,” he said.

Koutsoukos finally highlighted that the record prices at origin in Greece, reaching up to €10.00 per kilogram of extra virgin in Laconia, along with the season’s poor harvest, have created a complex dilemma for the country’s olive oil sector.

He described the situation of the industry in Greece as uncertain. “The local demand for olive oil is not growing right now, as producers are keeping their scarce stocks waiting for higher prices, and the future is hard to foresee,” he said.