Plagues and pests in Spain and Italy are opening markets for Greek olive oil

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Greece’s economy may be pressed on all sides by austerity measures, capital controls, and political forces within and without. But as the October start of the olive harvest approaches, some of the country’s entrepreneurs see a rare opportunity to take market share from Spain and Italy, the world’s No. 1 and No. 2 producers of olive oil.

11Lousy weather, a mysterious tree disease, and a fruit fly that feasts on olives have decimated groves in Italy. Nearly a tenth of the 10 million trees in Puglia are infected with a disease that has been dubbed “olive ebola” (some scientists believe it is the bacterium called Xylella fastidiosa), which slowly kills the trees. As a result, Italy’s olive oil producers are bracing for another bad season, on the heels of a 34 percent decline in output in 2014-15, to 302,000 metric tons, according to data from the Madrid-based International Olive Council (IOC). Production in Spain fell by more than half, to 825,700 tons, in the most recent season, and will likely remain depressed due to a prolonged drought.

Greece saw its output more than double in the previous season, to 300,000 tons, and the local industry is hopeful it will be close to that in the coming season. Thanks to this combination of factors, Greek olive oil is more competitive than ever, at least on a price basis. According to a June report from the council, wholesale prices for extra-virgin categories from Italy and Spain have surged 114 percent and 84 percent this year, respectively, to €5.66 ($6.25) per kilo and €3.59 per kilo. In contrast, prices for Greek oil have climbed just 24 percent, to €3.09 per kilo.

The price advantage is helping small and midsize producers who make up most of Greece’s olive oil industry find new markets. The IOC reports Greek exports from the most recent harvest to the U.S., now the world’s top olive oil consumer, rose 28 percent from October 2014 through June of this year, while exports from Spain and Italy both dropped more than 50 percent.

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