As farmers we are powerless. Because the individual olive farmer has no market power and is forced to accept whatever price is offered for his olives. I think it is time for a change. Why? We are the ones who invest in the land, the trees, infrastructure, equipment, irrigation, hard labour and risk. The only options available for reducing our costs is to become mechanised and increase the population of olive trees per hectare. As organic farmers, this contradicts what we stand for.
Around 95% of small to medium olive farms run at a great loss. Your total cost per hectare is roughly in the region of 3500 euro whereas the gross income reaches figures of 2750 euro. In our region, where the olive cooperatives dictate and are paying 0.40 euro/kg, the net loss will be substantially higher. Farmers are then removing their ancient olive trees (of great value) and opting for intensive and hedgerow systems increasing the olive tree population from 250 to 2500 per ha; at great cost. The concept of intensive olive farming to satisfy reduced production costs and increased profit margins for the farmer to become financialy viable in this competitive industry, destroys the soil and ecosystem.
The power lies in the hands of the buyer of the olives. They alone dictate the price leaving no room for negotiation. This then makes olive farming financially non viable. This is a problem and needs to be addressed when you consider that the average olive farmer in Spain is over 60 years old. The present financial reward makes it disheartening and impossible for the young, enthusiastic and capable olive farmer to survive. To turn this situation around and encourage young farmers to take up olive farming we as farmers need to reclaim our power.
Some of the ways that we are approaching this is by value adding to our olive production by producing an organic extra virgin olive oil and educating the public to purchase a superior product. We are aware that this is not an easy route to take because it requires excessive knowledge in media marketing, branding, packaging and growing a supportive client base. What differentiates us from other olive oil producers is:
- The way we manage our existing ancient olive trees to optimise their individual environments and meet their specific needs.
- They are manually pruned to ensure maximum production and health.
- Reducing soil compaction: not using heavy machinery. The only compaction we might have is on the rare occasion our small and light tractor passes over the land to mow or for grass seeding, the rest is just footfall.
- Eliminating heavy machinery: everything is done by hand with the greatest attention to detail. Just look at the use of mechanical olive harvesters alone which are responsible for the destruction of thousands of birds, chicks and eggs in their nests as well the bruising of olives that will negatively impact the flavour.
- No chemicals: our organic extra vergin olive oil is genuine.
To establish our sense of worth, we need to find a market of consumers that are prepared to pay a fair price that reflects the value of the superior product. Only then can the industry revert back to a profitable and appealing venture.
I would like to appeal to the discerning buyer, who will have an in depth and honest look at the organic extra virgin olive oil they are purchasing. Find farmers who share our philosophy. This way you will invest in olive farming that will not only be genuin regenerative farming but create the opportunity for young enthusiastic farmers to come onto the land. Otherwise, the industry becomes destructive and mechanised, rich in compacted dysfunctional soils and ultimately leads to global desertification.