AUCTION - The Big Olive Processing Plant

Olive Oil Producers in Portugal Celebrate Country’s Second-Highest Yield

As the harvest concludes in Portugal, olive oil production is estimated to reach 150,000 to 160,000 tons in the 2023/24 crop year, confirming a slight increase from the previous harvest.

Overall, Portuguese producers said it was a good harvest. However, high moisture levels concentrated in the olives due to winter rain made oil extraction difficult and reduced the final quantity of olive oil.

Jeremias Lancastre e Tavora, the general manager of Olivo Gestão, an Alentejo-based company, confirmed the difficulties faced by producers during the harvest, which started in October and finished recently.

He said, “It was a demanding campaign, in technical terms, for the olive oil industry in Portugal, particularly in Alentejo,” the country’s largest olive oil-producing region by a significant margin.

“Initial forecasts pointed to an average season, even if we had some uncertainties regarding the quantity of expected olives due to the unseasonably cold weather in the spring,” Lancastre e Tavora added.He said that in October, the fruit appeared to be ripening well, indicating good levels of oil accumulation.

“However, after the first rains in October and while it was still hot, the olives stopped accumulating oil, and the humidity levels increased exponentially,” Lancastre e Tavora said. “This made the entire extraction process very difficult and caused very low oil yields, even reaching 2.5 percent below the average for this region.”

“Another challenge we had was Gafa, a fungus that appeared on our olives towards the end of November,” he added. “We had to be highly selective when picking olives to take to the mill to avoid mixing the oils and acidity.”

Also known as anthracnose, Gafa is an olive tree disease that affects the quality of the oil, reflected mainly in increased acidity. Humidity and high temperatures are usually to blame.

On the other side of Portugal, where traditional olive groves dominate the country’s rugged, hilly landscape, producers reported a production rebound with similar challenges.

Julio Alves, the founder of Quinta dos Olmais, said production in Trás-os-Montes was expected to increase after last year’s poor harvest. However, producers also experienced lower oil accumulation levels after a wet autumn and winter.

“Following the disastrous campaign of 2022, we reverted to our usual numbers,” he said. “Opting for an early harvest, we proceeded despite the rainy weather conditions.”

“Consequently, we managed to gather a higher quantity of olives, albeit with slightly lower yields due to their increased water content,” Alves added. “Overall, the harvest in our region progressed smoothly, with no significant setbacks.”

Along with lower oil yields, Alves said the most significant obstacle producers in the north of the country faced was mud and slippery terrain caused by the rain, which meant the harvest unfolded more slowly.

While this season was below the record-high of 206,000 tons produced in the 2021/22 crop year, Lancastre e Tavora said production will continue to increase as the number of newly planted super-high-density olive groves in Alentejo increases.

“Since 2005, the modernization of agribusiness in Portugal, the efficiency of processing at olive groves, and the quality of the olive oil produced here have been encouraging for local farmers,” he said. “The fact that it is an indigenous crop with water availability, good soil and reasonable climatic conditions has made it possible to achieve results.” More