The World’s Commercial Olive Groves Are Shrinking

The shift to super-intensive cultivation, low prices for olives and olive oil, and the surplus on the international market were identified as factors that led to the reversal of a decades-long trend.

For the first time in 22 years, the global surface area of olive trees that are cultivated for commercial purposes has decreased.

The largest drop has been noted in Italy, Spain, Greece, Jordan and Syria, all of which are countries where the internal consumption of olives and olive oil have decreased.

“The international olive cultivation surface area has grown over the last two decades with more than a million hectares (2.47 million acres), mainly with modern cultivation – intensive and super-intensive – and the countries in which olives are cultivated grew from 46 to 65,” Juan Vilar Hernández, an industry analyst and professor at the University of Jaén, told Olive Oil Times.

“In 22 years, this is the first year in which the international olive tree surface decreased,” he added.

Vilar and Jorge Enrique Pereira Benítez, an olive oil consultant and professor of agronomy, found this reversal in the decades-long trend while updating their co-authored olive cultivation manual, International Olive Growing: Worldwide Analysis and Summary.

Vilar clarified that for the purposes of the study, the global surface area is where olive trees are cultivated for commercial purposes. Olive trees that have been abandoned or not used for commercial purposes are not included in the international tree surface area figure, even if the trees are still alive.

One of the main reasons for the shrinking surface area is that growers are switching to more profitable options, such as growing almond and walnut trees.

“Now (that) international oliviculture is a mature market… companies are increasing the surface in which they are cultivating almond trees,” he said.

Vilar expects the market for almonds to continue increasing for the next eight to 10 years.

The second factor that Vilar and Pereira identified as causing the world’s commercial olive groves to shrink is that modern olive tree cultivation is overtaking traditional oliviculture.

Traditional olive cultivation – which makes up 70 percent of the global olive tree surface area – cannot compete with intensive and super-intensive olive tree cultivation.

“More than 70 percent of the international olive tree surface is losing money,” Vilar said. More