stone wall, snowy trees, mountains, cloudy sky

“The unusual weather--snow, ice, and very low temperatures--affected almost all the major olive-oil producing areas” in Greece, according to the directors of the major Greek olive oil industry organizations, Panayiotis Karantonis (ESVITE) and George Economou (SEVITEL). Most importantly, they add, this weather hit after the olive harvest was mainly finished.

Once the harvest has been completed, Karantonis and Economou report, such “weather conditions not only have no negative effect on the olive trees, but on the contrary they are welcome if they appear after the harvesting period and until the end of February or early March. A situation like this is a first very positive indication for the next crop-year.

Fortunately, they point out, “harvesting has finished in almost all the producing areas” of Greece. Where it has not been completed, they do anticipate “serious problems” with “both the yield of the olive fruit and the quality of the olive oil to be produced (mainly its organoleptic characteristics).” There have also been reports from other sources of some problems with olive trees due to the harsh weather, but most of the news about Greek olive trees to date is not alarming.

Eftychios Androulakis, owner of Pamako, explains that in the mountainous area of Agriles, Chania, western Crete, this year’s winter weather is approximately 20% colder and icier than other years. The main difference is that there is ice as well as snow. This has led to some broken olive tree branches, but this occurred on no more than 5% of Androulakis’s trees. He finished his harvest two months ago and is not worried about next year’s harvest, because his trees have grown on their mountain for centuries “and are used to handling situations like that.”

Terra Creta’s Emmanouil Karpadakis saw “a lot of snow in Panethimos,” northwest Crete, but said it is too early to determine whether there has been any damage to the olive trees there. He does not expect to find major damage, although “we do not see such weather very often, maybe once every ten to twenty years.” He adds that once the harvest is complete, “snow is very beneficial for the agricultural sector.

snowy trees, hills, and fields on a cloudy day in Crete

George Menzelos of Arianna Trading Company reports that an olive farmer he cooperates with in Sitia tells him they had snow only in the mountains in his part of eastern Crete, with no damage to their trees.

Evgenia Andriopoulou, owner of Makaria Terra, mentions that this winter has been colder than usual in central and northern Messinia, Peloponnese, with low temperatures resulting in frost on clear, calm days, as opposed to the usual “milder weather with more rain and less cold” this time of year. Fortunately, so far the frost “did not persist more than a few hours in the early morning,” when the temperatures got down to -3 or -4 degrees Celsius.

Andriopoulou suggests that it is too early to see if there has been any damage to her trees. However, for her hardy Koroneiki trees, she expects that if “weather conditions do not get worse and are not prolonged for many days with temperatures below zero, the harsh weather we have experienced lately will assist in the elimination of many of the diseases and fungi” in their particular area. Generally, the Koroneiki olive tree “is damaged only if the exposure to temperatures below zero degrees Celsius is prolonged and repeated persistently over a period of time.”

Dr. Tasos Anestis, Export Sales Manager at Rhizoma Olive Farms, reports “the lowest average temperatures since 2004” in Kranidi, Argolis, Peloponnese—“probably 5 or 6 degrees lower” than in recent years. He explains that they “had very low temperatures for a prolonged time” as well as an unusually large amount of snow, “which seemed to have stalled the tree growth.” A biologist, Anestis believes “the new sprouts did not have enough strength to start preparing for the next season.” However, he has not noticed any damage to his trees.

snowy olive grove in northern Greece

Evi Psounou Prodromou of Yanni’s Olive Groves reports that “this year's winter is normal but extremely harsh,” with more than 30 cm of snow and temperatures dropping to -10 degrees Celsius instead of the usual -2 with little or no snow in her area by the sea in Chalkidiki (or Halkidiki), northern Greece. She believes this is their harshest winter since 1985.

Prodromou explains that Chalkidiki olive trees need 800 hours of cold during the winter and 800 hours of sunshine during the year, and she expects them to get both this year, with temperatures not dropping below -12. Therefore, she expects “a very good harvest” next year. She has seen no damage in her olive groves, but she cautions that farmers who pruned their trees in November could have problems if the temperature drops lower and stays very cold.

With additional storms forecast in Greece this week and assessments of the effects of the previous storms not yet complete, Greek olive farmers can only wait to see what nature brings them and their trees—a variety of situations in this small country’s surprisingly large number of different microclimates.

Thanks to all the olive oil industry professionals who answered my questions about the effects of the winter weather. For photographs, thanks also to Eftychis Androulakis of Pamako for the large photo from Rodovani, Crete above this article; Emmanouil Karpadakis of Terra Creta for the introductory image for the article and the photo of snowy hills, trees, and fields around Panethimos and Kria Vrisi, Crete; and Evi Psounou Prodromou of Yanni’s Olive Groves for the photo of snow in Yanni’s Olive Grove, Chalkidiki. (The other photo is my own, from Akrotiri, Crete.)

Panayotis Karantonis is a member of the International Olive Council (IOC) advisory committee as well as the director of ESVITE, the Greek Association of Olive Oil Processors and Packers. George Economou is the director of SEVITEL, the Association of Greek Industries for Standardization of Olive Oil.

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