Oil production falls again in Tarragona amid rising prices

Second consecutive campaign in Terres de l'Ebre and Tarragona in which olive oil production will fall by half.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
20 September 2023 Wednesday 16:57
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Oil production falls again in Tarragona amid rising prices

Second consecutive campaign in Terres de l'Ebre and Tarragona in which olive oil production will fall by half. The olive campaign will once again be "complicated", with significant losses between 40% and 50%, slightly better than last year's harvest, when losses were 70%.

The drought and heat affected the olive trees during flowering and the scenario of oil shortage places the beginning of the harvest campaign in a context of skyrocketing prices.

Farmers warn that this price increase has no impact on their pockets, since with skyrocketing production costs and the lack of fruit they will once again be left without profits. The cooperatives also fear that olive oil consumption and exports will slow down.

The rains of the last weeks and days "will be good" and will help to stabilize" the fruit and improve the production of olive oil, but "it can no longer be recovered" the part of the harvest that was lost during flowering, precisely because the lack of spring rains and also the high temperatures. Pere Albacar, director of Olivite Export - made up of five olive oil cooperatives from Ebrenca - explains that the heat means that "the flower that manages to emerge, in the end, does not grow correctly and production is lost."

In the last harvest 22/23, between 50% and 70% of the fruit in the territory was already lost and oil production plummeted. In fact, according to data from the FCAC (Federation of Agrarian Cooperatives of Catalonia), 15,000 tons of oil were produced in Catalonia (the usual average exceeds 30,000), the worst figure in the last two decades.

Even so, it will be a complex campaign with medium-low production, "very below average and even with areas, both in Baix Ebre and Montsià and in Terra Alta, that could not have a harvest.

The lack of supply, also in the rest of Spain - the world's main producer of olive oil - has caused a mess in the increase in oil prices and also some speculation. In just a few months, the cost of oil for the consumer has skyrocketed.

In this sense, Antoni Galceran, responsible for the oil and olive sector of the FCAC, assures that the five-liter bottle of oil has gone from being worth between 25 and 28 euros to selling for over 40 euros, and the fruit, olive, It was paid at around 60 euro cents per kilo or less, two years ago, and is now close to one euro per kilo (approximately 90 euro cents).

For one liter of oil you need 6 or 7 kilos of olive. The yields of the fruit are very variable and how much the farmer earns also depends on it.

Although this increase in oil prices is also reflected, proportionally, in the price of olives, the profits of olive growers continue to fall short.

It will be the second year that they lose a lot of fruit and also that they assume skyrocketing production costs such as, among others, energy, phytosanitary products and fuel.

"Obviously the price rises and it is good for the producer, but despite the swirl of news and even memes on the Internet about fortification with oil, if production is very low, no matter how high the price, there is no profit. enough," Albacar remarked.

The FCAC has also criticized that olive oil has gone from being "the popular product" of supermarkets with excessively low prices - below the production price - to compete with cooperatives, to "joining the bandwagon of speculation." and triple its price.

"Cooperatives and producers do not speculate. We maintain a price that is logical, then and now," claimed Antoni Galceran. "8 euros per liter is not the 12 or 13 euros at which it is sold in supermarkets," he exemplified.

Farmers are hurt by this projection of enrichment that is occurring due to the increase in the price of oil and above all due to the fact that basic food products are being blamed for inflation.

According to FCAC calculations, the current price of oil has an impact of 3 euros per person and year on the food bill of a family that "uses it for everything."

This is the price difference taking into account the average consumption data for olive oil in the country, which is 10 liters per person each year. "It's not that much either, is it?" questions the head of the Federation of Cooperatives.

The forecast for the coming months is that this slight increase in the olive harvest will stop the rise in prices, although they will remain high. "We are talking about high prices because there is no availability of product, which is what we dislike the most about the situation.

The price had to rise because procurement costs have increased, but reaching these extremes is dangerous because we do not know if consumption can be reduced," warned the director of Olivite Export.

The fear that prices will cause consumption to fall is especially felt outside the country. Exports at Olivite Export have already been reduced by 30% or 40% in some of their markets. In receiving countries that have a soybean or sunflower oil culture, consumption may possibly change towards this type of oil. "For a Catalan or Terres de l'Ebre consumer it is more difficult for this to happen," explained Pere Albacar.

Galceran points out that it is necessary to take advantage of the shortage situation to insist on the quality, culinary benefits and health benefits of the product, as well as the importance of the primary sector, food sovereignty and local products. "The lesson would be that when normality returns and prices stabilize, there will not be ups and downs again. The previous price was perhaps too low, because the producers could not make a good living, but make it affordable for the consumer," he defended. .

As in other crops, the olive harvest will be brought forward to mid-October due to climate change and also due to the tendency to produce "greener and higher quality oils." It will also end sooner thanks to the modernization of harvesting by farmers. The campaign has been shortened until the end of the year.

Although the native varieties of the Baix Ebre-Montsià DOP are Morruda, Sevillana and Farga and in Terra Alta the graft, in the new crops with supported irrigation the focus is mainly on Arbequina, which is more widespread in Siurana and in the Camp de Tarragona. "It is a variety that produces a lot, that gives very balanced oils and, therefore, not here, but worldwide, the arbequina has been planted and is planted a lot," Galceran explained.