'Buy olive oil for Christmas to help Italy'

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The impact of poor weather and pests has devastated Italy’s 2014 crop. Olive oil photo: Shutterstock
10:52 CET+01:00
Italy's oil producers are urging consumers to give olive oil as Christmas gifts and help the industry hard hit by this year's disastrous harvest.

“I would ask Italians to exchange extra virgin olive oil labelled ‘Made in Italy’ as gifts,” said David Granieri, president of the nation’s olive oil consortium, Unaprol.

The impact of poor weather and pests has devastated Italy’s 2014 crop and sent wholesale prices skyrocketing.

Unaprol and Ismea, the agricultural statistics agency, estimate Italian production could be down by as much as 35 percent when final figures are tallied, according to Italian daily La Stampa.

Agriculture Minister Maurizio Martina has already introduced measures to support producers and is talking about more aid.

“We are looking at measures together with the regions,” Martina told La Stampa. “Something has already been done.”

He said the government was providing €70 million a year to aid olive production and €100 million for promotion over the next three years. An additional  €1.4 billion in European Union funds had been freed up to assist around one million firms affected by the disappointing season, he said.

Gianfranco Carli, managing director of family producer Fratelli Carli in Liguria, described this year as “dramatic”.

“Every so often you can have below average years but I can’t remember a similar season, between bad weather, fly infestations, and the drastic fall in production,” he told the newspaper.

The company, based in the coastal city of Imperia, employs 350 people and has an annual turnover of €140 million. But this year olive groves have been inundated with heavy rain with a record 468.2 millimetres falling only in the month of November.

Coldiretti, the national farmers’ association, recently expressed concern about a rise in the number of robberies in olive groves, throughout Italy but in particular in the southern region of Puglia after olive flies decimated production.

Olive flies are highly sensitive to climate. Central Italy's combination of cold winters and very hot summers usually keeps them under control but this year's temperatures were more similar to northern Europe.

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Heavy rain provided ideal conditions for the insect's reproductive cycle, in which mature flies pierce the olive skin and lay their eggs, allowing larvae to develop inside

Producers in Greece and Tunisia, who have enjoyed bumper harvests this year, are looking forward to grabbing a slice of the high-value market which, they believe, has been cornered by Italy for too long.

READ MORE: Disastrous olive oil harvests drive up prices

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