Photo d'un olivier

Trends and outlook for the olive sector

Laurent Bélorgey, chief executive of France Olive, reviews the sector

Encouraging results

The 2017 and 2018 harvests, respectively weighing in at 6,000 and 5,300 tonnes of olive oil, were encouraging. Winning back the favours of the markets is an ongoing exercise, but it will take time. This disparity between a return to satisfactory production and an increase in sales has regenerated stocks that are necessary for the long-term stability of sales channels.

This period can also leave people worried, and it is quite understandable. The financial stakes are considerable, and cash flows are treading a fine line. But let us not too quickly forget the past and the progress that has been achieved. Olive production will always vary, since it is in the very nature of the olive tree and we remain at the mercy of climate conditions, but we also know how to extend the lifespan of our olive oils by filtering them and by storing them chilled.

In terms of promoting our olive oils, there is little room for improvement given how much we have progressed in the last 15 years. However, the average production of the French olive sector is 200l of olive oil per hectare, when some managed to produce 1,000. If we were to reach 300 or 400l per hectare we would not be forfeiting our soul nor the authenticity and the quality of our products, but the profitability of our farms would be very different, and the sector would become even more attractive to young people and would be much healthier as a whole.

All the steps in olive production are fixed costs, including the most expensive among them: harvesting. With current equipment, the margin can be found in the number of olives that fall into the nets each time a branch is raked. Its as simple as that.

So we must keep up our productivity efforts

To achieve this, we must act on all levers and improve them in a coordinated way in the long term.

These levers are well known to all: pruning, soil amendment, crop protection and irrigation (when it is possible).

I like describing the law of limiting factors through the image of a barrel which cannot be filled higher than its shortest stave. If I increase my soil amendments, I must also prune differently and more regularly to increase my production. In terms of pest prevention, flies are the most visible nuisance as they attack the fruit, but peacock spot is more treacherous and certainly underestimated.

Each olive grower must build their own technical path starting from their soil, their weather conditions, their varieties and the age of their trees. Solutions exist to receive assistance from technicians on the ground; and both private and cooperative mills should continue to make their contribution.

The teams at France Olive are fully mobilised to offer solutions to producers by organising training, by calling on foreign specialists to appraise our technical corpus and improve it, by carrying out experiments on our Mas d’Asport site, by observing the behaviour of benchmark olive groves, by funding research on pollination and on flies, etc.

Circulating this information is a major subject and here too, there is room for improvement. The “carnet de l’oléiculteur” is the reference document. The 2020 version will be out soon, but we must use all the channels at our disposal,which is why France Olive is present on social media in addition to its website, newsletters, text alerts, Le Nouvel Olivier, etc.

The 2019 will probably be less productive than the two previous ones, which is an additional reason to start planning for the next one, by using this autumn to think about amendments, pruning and how to contain peacock spot. 

We have everything we need to succeed, so let’s now look after our olive trees!

Portrait Laurent Bélorgey