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Olive sector on edge of collapse due to processing strains

The Olive sector, consisting of olive harvesting and olive oil production, in Portugal is on the brink of collapse in Southern Portugal. This is due to the lack of storage capacity of the region’s factories to house pomace from the mills.

“Probably no later than next week there will be a sudden drop in the sector, because olive picking and olive oil production will have to stop since there is no room to put the olive pomace produced by the mills”, said Aníbal Martins, member of the board of directors of CONFAGRI – the National Confederation of Agricultural Cooperatives and Agricultural Credit of Portugal.

According to Mr. Martins, the three factories in the Alentejo that process olive pomace from the region’s mills have practically exhausted their pomace storage capacity. The olive pomace is a by-product of olive oil production.

Due to the larger olive yield this year and the beneficial climatic conditions (warm and dry), olives have arrived in larger quantities and more quickly at the mills, meaning that an unusual volume of olive pomace has been processed in the three units, he explained.

Mr. Martins, who is also president of FENAZEITES – Federação Nacional das Cooperativas Agrícolas de Olivicultores, manager of the União de Cooperativas Agrícolas do Sul (UCASUL), and the owner of the Alvito olive processing unit, has warned that if the sector comes to a stop, it could cause incalculable damage to farmers and small companies involved in the sector.

Furthermore, he argued that there could be some serious environmental chaos in the absence of a place to produce and store the olive pomace, which could reach 600,000 tonnes in the current olive-growing campaign.

According to Mr. Martins, the UCASUL unit receives 5,000 tonnes of olive pomace a day, of which it can only transform 1,000 tonnes per day, that is, it accumulates 4,000 tonnes every day and is rapidly approaching its storage threshold, which would put the sector on lockdown.

Mr. Martins said that the cooperative organizations involved in the olive sector, through CONFAGRI, FENAZEITES and UCASUL, have been raising awareness of the issue to the responsible entities, including the Ministry of Agriculture, highlighting the problem and the gravity of the situation if collapse of the olive sector were to take place.

Both CONFAGRI and FENAZEITES will soon meet with the Minister of Agriculture to further discuss the issue and seek a solution. Mr. Martins noted that the meeting has been agreed on, but not yet scheduled.

Aníbal Martins pointed out that more processing units are needed, or another alternative would be to expand the capacity of the three existing units in the Alentejo to solve the problem.

However, the issue here lies in the fact that the municipal master plans (PDM) only allow the installation of these factories near urban agglomerations, and these factories suffer from a negative public perception from an environmental point of view.