For generations, Italian olive growers have encountered brutal crop failures. Stories of ruined businesses, lost livelihoods and severe shortages were common.
Today’s generation of growers in Italy, the world’s second largest producer of olives after Spain, has long been blessed with bountiful harvest after bountiful harvest – at least until now.
In the past year, the output of olive oil has dropped by 35 percent, from 464,000 tons in 2013 to an expected 302,000 tons this year. That’s not even enough to meet Italy’s domestic demand of 12 kilograms (26 pounds) per person.
Some villages in the traditional producing regions of Tuscany and Umbria are barely pressing any oil at all these days. Many towns have cancelled their traditional fall festivals that celebrate the olive harvest.
The “olio extravergine” is in short supply, and prices for Italy’s “green gold” are skyrocketing.
The poor harvests are being caused by a deadly combination of unsual weather and the olive fruit fly. First, the mild winter allowed more fruit fly larvae than usual to survive buried in the soil. Next, a dry June saw olive blossoms wither away on the trees.