Cost of olive oil set to rise sharply

Emma Woollacott
Cooking Oil Collection On White Background
Cooking Oil Collection On White Background

Let the middle class beware: the cost of Italian olive oil is set to rocket by as much as £2 a litre, following poor harvests.

Production in the country has experienced a double whammy this year, with a widespread infestation of Bactrocera oleae, the olive fruit fly. The insect lays its eggs in the olives, damaging the fruit. Little is left apart from the skin and stone, and any oil that can be produced is much more acidic than usual, with a strong, woody aftertaste.

The infestation comes on top of a hot spring followed by a wet summer that was itself expected to hit production hard.

"In 2014, Umbria is facing a drastic fall in olive oil production compared to last year, due to the unfavorable weather conditions of last winter and summer. As a consequence, the groves have been attacked by insects and parasites such as olive fruit fly and olive moth," member Sandra Monacelli told the Regional Council of Umbria this week.

"This caused huge damages and a further, considerable decrease of production that has been overall estimated to be around 60% with 70 to 80% peaks in certain areas, while some farmers lost the whole production."

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United Kingdom Pulls Reins on Specialty Restaurant Olive Oils
United Kingdom Pulls Reins on Specialty Restaurant Olive Oils

As a result, this year's oil production in the country is little more than half of what was expected.

Organic producers have been particularly hard-hit by the insects, with one grower, Filippo Chiocchini, saying he has suffered losses of 30,000 euros.

"The organic farms have been hit worse than the others by this fatal year," he writes on Facebook. "It's a shame to give up the harvest but this is real farming which depends on natural methods."

And in Spain, too - the world's biggest producer - harvests have been poor this year. Scorching summer weather means that production's likely to be around half last year's level, and The Grocer magazine reports that bottlers are paying between 20 and 40% more for their oil - a price increase that's likely to be passed on to consumers.

But it's not all bad news: production in Greece is forecast to more than double this year, says the International Olive Oil Council, with Tunisia and Turkey also expected to do well. Tunisia is busily planting new olive groves, and is producing more olive oil than ever before.

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