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The Back Story: Olives in Greece

EU production of olive oil is nothing we should take for granted. Southern Mediterraneans certainly do not; the olive crop plays an important role culturally and economically.

And when there is pressure on the olive trees, the EU feels it. In fact, a European Commission report1 estimates that recent climatic conditions and an insect called the olive fly have affected olive yields, with a particular impact in Italy and Greece. Experts say that the production is likely to be 30 to 40% below the last five-year average in Italy and Greece, largely because of the impact of the pest.

We got the inside scoop on protecting olives from Greek olive farmer Giorgos Papavasilis. Giorgos manages his family farm outside Athens. His crops include not only olives, but spinach, onions, leeks and pistachios. With a constant eye on the quality of his crops, he battles tough weather conditions and the olive fly. He controls crop damage through specialised spraying, and says that without proper crop control, he would lose 40 to 50% of his entire olive crop. To protect the trees from olive flies, crews typically use a bate-spray approach, not full-cover spray. Using GPS-enabled technology, they treat parts of trees in selected rows. This targeted application of the pesticide allows farmers to protect beneficial insects, as well as mammals, birds and nearby water bodies.

Giorgos was recently nominated as one of a group of #FoodHeroes. Learn more about Giorgos and Greek olives here.

Did You Know?

  • If pesticides were not used to control the olive fly, there could be a total loss of the crop in Greece.
  • One bite from an olive fly is all it takes to destroy an olive. When a female olive fly bites an olive, she leaves larvae inside. The bite makes the olive bitter tasting, weaker, and more sensitive to bacteria, resulting in reduced quality or total loss of the tree.
  • Humid and wet weather conditions in the summer increase the olive fly population. In 2011, the Greek growers lost more than half of their crops. That year, even with proper protection, pruning, fertiliser use and the use of pesticides to defend the olive trees, the olive flies still won.
  • Olives are a staple in the Greek diet, and an inherent element in their culture. Even life ceremonies such as baptisms and funerals use olive oil.


Olive producer Giorgos Papavasilis on his olive grove, Attiki, Greece.
Copyright: Guilhem Alandry/Doculab

1 European Commission. Short-term Outlook for EU agricultural markets in 2017 and 2018. Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development – Shortterm Outlook – N°17. Published Winter 2017. Page 9.