Bad News: Italy Is About to Run out of Your Favorite Export

PHOTO: Shaiith/Shutterstock

Honestly, this is terrible. Nothing about this is good.

According to a report from The Times, Italy will be out of olive oil by April. Coldiretti, an Italian agriculture association, states that last season, the olive harvest fell 57 percent, a 25-year low. At this rate, the group said, the chance of losing (possibly forever) Italian extra virgin olive oil is very real and “will have disastrous effects on the economy, jobs, health, and the countryside.”

David Granieri, chairman of Unaprol, Europe’s largest olive oil producers’ union, is citing the harsh weather associated with climate change as one of the primary culprits. Additionally, a pathogen spread via insects took down many of Italy’s olive trees in Puglia in 2018.

Because of this, prices on the country’s olive oil product rose 31 percent last month. Another concern is that Italian olive oil makers could turn to filling their bottles with a lower-quality product from outside countries such as Spain.

Globally, Olive Oil Times—the biggest name in olive oil news!—reports that the International Olive Oil Council predicts olive oil production this season will come out around 3.451 million tons total, down from last season’s 3.653 million tons. Production of the export is expected to drop in Tunisia and Turkey this year by nearly 50 percent as well, and Greece’s by 35 percent. The change in weather has also affected olive oil crops in the U.S. Last year, an early thaw followed by a cold spell in California led to a drop in olive oil production by as much as 50 percent. The unpredictable climate isn’t spelling trouble for all producers, though. The heat wave has been kind to Spain and its production of olive crops, which is expected to see a 40 percent increase compared to last season.

Other Crops Affected By Climate Change

According to a study from the journal Nature Research, wheat is being hit hard by the changes in weather. In particular, production of the crop in India will see an eight percent drop if worldwide temperatures rise by 1 degree Celsius. That’s right, just a single degree. Peaches are another crop that could take a hit. Not unlike bears, the fruits require a certain amount of chilltime in the winter months and if they’re robbed of this, the trees they grow on do not bloom well, NPR reports. And, among other popular crops, climate change will certainly not be friendly to corn production—especially in the U.S.’s Corn Belt region, which includes states like Iowa and Kansas. Harsh storms, a lack of rain, and hot temperatures all inhibit the crop from growing properly.

Related: Should You Go Here? The Corn Palace

Can the Problem Be Solved?

Two words: Gene editing. In an interview with Scienceline, Stanford biologist Dominique Bergmann suggested considering something straight out of a sci-fi movie: technology that allows scientists to alter a plant’s DNA. Bergmann led a team of researchers to conduct such an experiment, published last year, and found that when adjusting a certain plant hormone, the plant altered its ventilation and water usage to adapt to its environment.

There is pushback, though, as not everyone is onboard with these methods. Paul Thompson, a Michigan State University food and agriculture ethicist, pointed out to Scienceline that, “we don’t have a good track record for introducing new agriculture technologies.” As a more practical alternative, farmers are giving the soil itself just as much attention as the crops. Such applications that enrich the soil (which allows crops to flourish), Global Citizens reports, include regular compost applications which cut back on the use of commercial fertilizers. It’s unclear whether olive oil farmers are utilizing such methods, but the fact that these methods exist proves hopeful. Please, olive oil, do not leave us.