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HomeVideoEl Niño Decimates Peruvian Olive Harvest

El Niño Decimates Peruvian Olive Harvest

Officials in Peru antic­i­pate a 90 per­cent decrease in olive oil pro­duc­tion before the 2024 har­vest, cit­ing cli­mate extremes attrib­uted to El Niño.

Local pro­duc­ers esti­mate the coun­try will pro­duce between 700 and 1,000 tons of olive oil in 2024, down from 7,000 tons pro­duced in 2023. Peru pro­duces less than 10,000 tons of olive oil in an aver­age crop year.

The cli­mate fore­casts pre­dict that we will have a much more nor­mal win­ter. This could trans­late into a record har­vest in 2025.– Manuel Morales Ordóñez, pres­i­dent, Pro Olivo

With the devel­op­ment of El Niño, Peru tends to expe­ri­ence higher annual aver­age tem­per­a­tures. During this cycle, many olive trees did not receive the nec­es­sary chill hours to bear fruit. Heavy rains dur­ing the flow­er­ing period in the olive groves, pri­mar­ily in arid south­west­ern Peru, lost their flow­ers and will not pro­duce any fruit.

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More so than the rain, the prob­lem has been the need for suf­fi­cient chill hours,” Manuel Morales Ordóñez, the pres­i­dent of the Association of Table Olive and Olive Oil Producers and Exporters of Peru (Pro Olivo), told Olive Oil Times.

The Criolla olive [which accounts for 85 to 90 per­cent of table olive and olive oil pro­duc­tion] espe­cially has a strong need for enough chill hours, and this year with El Niño, we had very high win­ter tem­per­a­tures,” he added.

The olive har­vest begins in the sec­ond week of February, with the table olive har­vest start­ing in March and con­tin­u­ing through June.

Peru has an unusual loca­tion for an olive oil-pro­duc­ing coun­try, with most of its olive groves located between 16 and 18 degrees south, putting the region closer to the equa­tor than any other olive oil-pro­duc­ing coun­try.

Olive trees have sur­vived in south­west­ern Peru due to their loca­tion between the Andes Mountains and the coast, along with the pres­ence of the Humboldt cur­rent, which brings Antarctic waters to the Peruvian coast and mod­er­ates the tem­per­a­ture.

According to Gianfranco Vargas, a Peruvian olive oil pro­ducer and pres­i­dent of the cul­tural asso­ci­a­tion Sudoliva, the peri­odic recur­rence of El Niño brings a more trop­i­cal cli­mate to Peru, typ­i­cal of other coun­tries at the same lat­i­tude.

Along with pro­mot­ing South America’s his­toric olive trees, Vargas har­vests his own cen­te­nary Criolla trees in the Sama Valley, in the south­west­ern cor­ner of Peru. My pro­duc­tion will not even reach 12 or 13 per­cent of what it nor­mally would,” he told Olive Oil Times.

Vargas inspects the olive trees ahead of the harvest. (Photo: Eliete Vera)

Farther north­west in Pisco, about 500 kilo­me­ters from the country’s main olive-grow­ing region, Peru’s largest olive oil pro­ducer is also antic­i­pat­ing a poor har­vest.

Peru is an inter­est­ing place to grow olives as we are grow­ing in a trop­i­cal zone quite dif­fer­ent from the typ­i­cal Mediterranean olive grow­ing cli­mate, but it does work most years,” John Symington, owner of Oasis Olives, which also pro­duces olive oil in Australia, told Olive Oil Times.

However, this year, due to the very strong impact of El Niño con­di­tions, there will be a very poor olive crop,” he added. Our own crop is poor, and there are other grow­ers who have a small crop, but many pro­duc­ers will have close to zero fruit this year. The small crop is also in part due to nor­mal alter­nacy as there was a good crop in Peru last year.”

Morales and Vargas believe Peruvian olive grow­ers need to diver­sify, grow­ing more Arbequina, Coratina, Frantoio, Manzanilla and Sevillano olives. Other vari­eties, such as Manzanilla, have proven to tol­er­ate higher win­ter tem­per­a­tures than the Criolla vari­ety,” Morales said.

However, the chal­lenge of shift­ing away from the Criolla vari­ety lies in the country’s olive cul­ture, which is far more focused on table olives. In 2022, a bumper year, Peru har­vested about 140,000 tons of olives but pro­duced less than 10,000 tons of olive oil.

Normally, olives that are not con­sid­ered ade­quate for table olive pro­cess­ing are sent to the mill to be turned into olive oil,” Morales said. These are usu­ally green olives, olives that are chang­ing from green to black and small olives.”

As a result, Peru long suf­fered from a rep­u­ta­tion for pro­duc­ing low-qual­ity olive oil, but Morales said this is chang­ing.

According to Vargas, roughly 50 per­cent of the olive oil pro­duced in Peru is lam­pante and exported to Spain to be refined and blended with vir­gin or extra vir­gin olive oil.

About 30 per­cent of the annual pro­duc­tion is extra vir­gin olive oil exported to Australia, the United States and neigh­bor­ing coun­tries, includ­ing Chile and Brazil.

However, with lam­pante olive oil prices surg­ing to new heights in Spain, Vargas sees lit­tle moti­va­tion for pro­duc­ers to focus on supe­rior grades of olive oil.

Still, Morales said Pro Olivo is work­ing with pro­duc­ers to har­vest their olives ear­lier to cre­ate extra vir­gin olive oil richer in polyphe­nols. The orga­ni­za­tion also holds work­shops to improve milling tech­niques and help pro­duc­ers lower costs by opti­miz­ing pes­ti­cide and fer­til­izer use.


Morales believes it is necessary to improve olive farming and milling techniques to improve quality and grow consumption in Peru. (Photo: Pro Olive)

Another of the organization’s goals is to pro­mote local olive oil con­sump­tion in Peru, which remains very low. One of the ways the orga­ni­za­tion plans to do this is by adding extra vir­gin olive oil to Peruvian recipes.

However, Vargas said high olive oil prices are hurt­ing local con­sump­tion and push­ing the country’s olive oil pro­duc­ers to turn their focus away from the domes­tic mar­ket. In 2023, Peru exported 3,000 tons of olive oil, 42 per­cent of what it pro­duced.

A one-liter bot­tle of olive oil in the super­mar­ket used to sell for $10,” Vargas said. Now, the same bot­tle sells for $20, leav­ing many Peruvians unable to buy the olive oil. It con­tin­ues to be a prod­uct asso­ci­ated with the elite.”

Rising prices also mean more Peruvian restau­rants are replac­ing olive oil with other edi­ble oils. Vargas said the con­se­quences of ris­ing prices fur­ther dis­in­cen­tivize pro­duc­ers from focus­ing on pro­duc­ing higher-qual­ity oils.

Morales sees the future of Peru as a regional olive oil exporter, focus­ing on smaller mar­kets of Colombia, Ecuador and Central America along with Chile and Brazil. However, the sec­tor’s ulti­mate goal is to con­tinue increas­ing exports to the lucra­tive U.S. mar­ket.

Meanwhile, Vargas empha­sized the role of devel­op­ing oleo­tourism in south­ern Peru, focus­ing on the his­tory and cul­ture of its cen­te­nary olive trees. He said this would diver­sify income streams for pro­duc­ers, giv­ing them a buffer to deal with poor har­vests caused by El Niño.

With many in Peru prepar­ing to write off the 2024 har­vest, Morales is look­ing ahead to 2025 with mea­sured opti­mism.

Morales said some mete­o­ro­log­i­cal indi­ca­tors have made him opti­mistic that the El Niño cycle will end soon with the prob­a­bil­ity of a coun­ter­vail­ing La Niña event ris­ing.

Typically, La Niña increases the prob­a­bil­ity that Peru expe­ri­ences drier weather. The last triple-dip La Niña plunged the coun­try into drought, which Morales said is not a sig­nif­i­cant fac­tor for most of the country’s olive groves, which are irri­gated in areas with abun­dant aquifers.

The cli­mate fore­casts pre­dict that we will have a much more nor­mal win­ter,” he said. This could trans­late into a record har­vest in 2025.”

Morales said pro­duc­ers could yield 10,000 tons of olive oil in 2025 based on installed milling capac­ity. Although, he was quick to warn that this was a best-case sce­nario and no one could accu­rately pre­dict the final result of the upcom­ing 2024 har­vest, let alone the fol­low­ing.

Vargas agreed with Morales and said if La Niña comes, Peru will have a sig­nif­i­cantly larger har­vest in 2025, with many trees well-rested after two con­sec­u­tive low har­vests.

He added that the devel­op­ment of an anti­cy­clone in the south­ern Pacific Ocean indi­cated that El Niño might soon shift to La Niña.

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