Vasilis Pyrgiotis standing in front of a Copa-Cogeca sign, next to three flags

Vasilis Pyrgiotis, the new chairperson of the Copa and Cogeca Working Party on Olive Oil and Table Olives, recently discussed the Greek and European olive sector with Greek Liquid Gold, emphasizing the importance of pan-European cooperation and smart farming, as well as promotional campaigns—for example using branded olive oil bottles on restaurant tables.

Born and raised in Sitia, Crete, in a family of olive growers, Pyrgiotis has worked for and with producer organizations and agricultural cooperatives all over Greece, from the land of the well-known PDO Chalkidiki green olives in the north to the PDO Sitia in the south. Now he is also a member of the Advisory Committee of the International Olive Council and a participant in the European Commission’s Civil Dialogue Group on Horticulture, Olives and Spirits (olive sector).

Pyrgiotis points out that his representation of Greek farmers and cooperatives is important for his native country after years of under-representation in European bodies during Greece’s economic crisis. Pyrgiotis’s leadership of the Olive Oil and Table Olives working group, he says, “was a very important moment for Greece as it placed us back on the map.”

Copa and Cogeca reports that Pyrgiotis welcomes research on Xylella fastidiosa that he hopes will “help to eradicate this disease, which is devastating” crops in certain parts of Europe. Another of his priorities “is to help rebalance the sector. Olive production is growing rapidly in Europe and worldwide, boosted by a positive image and a rise in consumption. But the structure of the industry prevents olive producers from benefiting from the full value of production. Profit margins are really constrained. A more balanced market could be achieved by increasing the sector’s competitiveness and highlighting its benefits by carrying out promotion campaigns. Smart farming could also benefit the sector,” he explained.

Cooperation in the European Olive Sector

Pyrgiotis believes “Greece’s national product could truly conquer the global recognition that it deserves … through the appropriate management of available European funding programs.” At the same time, he emphasizes that he wishes “to work along with every single one in the sector.” The Olive Oil and Table Olives working group is composed of “great believers in cooperation. We strongly feel that only through cooperation can we achieve sustainable solutions for the European olive sector. Our gravest issues do not arise amongst the different European olive producing countries, but from the wide spread of olive cultivation around the world, from climate change, the aging of the agricultural population, and the average consumer’s poor knowledge about olive products.”

Pyrgiotis believes “the competition between Spanish, Italian, and Greek olive products is not what it used to be, due to several factors. Spain does nowadays have the largest olive production; it also has bought several large Italian brand names. And the Greek olive sector, due to the small family farms and small businesses along with the constraints of the banking system, cannot provide adequate quantities to large scale supermarkets in non-producing countries.” He concludes that the European olive sector “is in truth in competition with the new upcoming olive producing countries rather than amongst itself.”

Promotion of Branded Olive Oil on Greek Restaurant Tables

Asked to comment on the new law requiring single serving bottles of branded olive oil on Greek restaurant tables in place of unmarked, refillable containers starting in January, Pyrgiotis expressed wholehearted support. He regretted that this hadn’t happened earlier, “particularly in Greece, which is an important tourist destination.” He acknowledges that some will criticize the law, and that “both restaurateurs and producers will have to make the necessary adjustments, but in the long term it will prove to be beneficial to both the tourism and agricultural sectors.”

Why? Because “olive oil has been a staple in Greece for centuries. It is so much in our everyday life that sometimes we do not realize how little attention we pay to it. Olive oil standing on the restaurant table in a half open bottle, often under the sun, is completely destroyed,” its flavor and aroma degraded. “How then can we convince all these tourists that go through Greece, Italy, and Spain that olive oil is a very special, tasty ingredient” that they should take home, and even purchase in their home country for use in their daily meals, “if we do not give them the opportunity to taste the best possible? Portugal was the first to adopt the small bottle on the table approach, followed by Spain, Italy, Cyprus, and now Greece.”

Smart Farming

Comparing it to the use of email instead of letters, and tractors instead of cattle, Pyrgiotis argues that “smart farming is an absolute necessity for the Greek producer.” Yes, it requires some adjustments and education, but “the smaller the farm, the more you need technology in order to minimize costs and manage to achieve the highest product quality.” He defines smart farming as “nothing more than the application of present day technology in the service of agriculture in order to save time, energy, expenses, and effort, while at the same time achieving a better outcome than before.”

More specifically, in Greece, according to the Gaia Sense website, Gaia Epicheirein “installs stations with sensors. The data that these stations collect refer to the atmospheric, soil, and biological parameters, such as air and soil temperature, air and soil humidity, soil salinity, leaf wetness, rainfall, solar radiation, and so on.” Combined with other information, that data is used to accurately calculate a plant’s need for water, identify the best time for irrigation, assess the risk of infection from pests and diseases, monitor plants’ vitality, determine fertilization needs, and predict the quality and quantity to be produced. 

Advocating smart farming, well-considered promotional programs, and pan-European cooperation, Vasilis Pyrgiotis hopes to help rebalance the olive and olive oil sector, thereby assisting the Greek and European olive oil world and everyone involved with it.
 

More About Vasilis Pyrgiotis and Selected Organizations

Proficient in four languages, with a background in International and European Economic Relations and a master’s from the Political Studies Institute in Toulouse, France, Vasilis Pyrgiotis has been working as a project manager at Axion Agrotiki Ltd. since 2007, submitting grant applications and coordinating the implementation of European support programs for producer organizations in the olive sector. He has also contributed columns to the Greek online publication Olive News. Since 2015, Pyrgiotis has been cooperating with Gaia Epicheirein S.A., developing smart farming and quality management applications; he is now the head of their  olive division.

According to its website, Copa and Cogeca is “the united voice of farmers and their cooperatives in the European Union,” seeking to represent the interests of the agricultural sector. As Vasilis Pyrgiotis explains, “COPA (Committee of Professional Agricultural Organizations) and COGECA (General Committee for Agricultural Cooperation in the European Union) were created shortly after the Treaty of Rome, the Treaty establishing the European Economic Community. Because they came to have common goals and aims, the two organizations joined hands in 1968 and work together through a common Secretariat and common advisory committees to represent the interests of the European agricultural sector.”

Gaia Epicheirein is a joint initiative of the agricultural, technological, and financial sectors designed to help Greek farmers and associations

  • organize, control and monitor their production
  • improve the management and administration of their farm
  • increase and improve productivity and quality
  • promote their products at an international level

Vasilis Pyrgiotis explains that the International Olive Council’s Advisory Committee on Olive Oil and Table Olives, based in Madrid, is “a fundamental talking partner for the Council of Members of the IOC. Its representatives are drawn from all the branches of the olive sector – producers, processors, traders and consumers – in the member countries. The Committee was established to voice the opinions of business circles and tap into their hands-on knowledge to help the Executive Secretariat find effective solutions to problems and keep its finger on the pulse of the industry.”

According to its mission statement, the European Commission’s Civil Dialogue Group on Horticulture, Olives and Spirits – Olives Sector will “maintain a regular dialogue on all matters relating to the common agricultural policy, … exchange relevant experience and good practice, … advise the Commission on relevant policy, … [and] monitor relevant policy developments.” 
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Thanks to Vasilis Pyrgiotis for the photos of him.

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