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Greek olives in short supply

- by Jeremy Guest

'poor harvest may trigger price rises'.

Early indications of a poor harvest this year looks set to send the price of Greek olives soaring. The hot summer weather in mainland Greece and across much of the southern Mediterranean looks likely to lead to a shortage of table olives later this year. It could trigger price rises of up to 50% for table olives with the 2013 olive harvest reported to be down by 80% in some parts of Greece.

October is the month that the Greek olive harvest gets under way after most holidaymakers have flown home.

Olive groves in Halkidiki, one of the main olive growing areas of Greece, have failed to produce the normal levels of fruit this year and the Halkidiki harvest is usually a good indicator of olive production across Greece and the Greek Islands.

Halkidiki olives are usually harvested from the middle of September, but unfortunately this year has seen very low levels of olives being produced, forcing Greek farmers to seek help from the European Parliament to support the industry.

Problems have been compounded by a poor harvest forecast for Spain and for many other areas of Southern Europe. Olives are an important segment on Greece's export trade and the poor crop will cause problems to the struggling economy of the country.

Greek olives often bridge the gap when there is a poor harvest in Spain but the weather wasn't on their side. It is only a matter of time before the poor olive harvest is reflected in prices at the supermarket.

Experts forecast that shoppers who enjoy Greek olives in the UK will have to pay more – up to 50% more for some olive varieties.

Greece is the third largest producer of olives and olive oil products with more than 430,000 tons of olive oil produced annually.

Around three quarters of that is premium quality first pressing olive oil that commands the highest prices.

The colour of table olives can tell you when the olive fruit was picked. Harvesting runs from September to January and the greenest olives are picked early while the blackest olives are picked in December and January.

Greek is noted for its high quality olive oil with premium quality olive oil always having the cold pressed extra virgin label. Top quality olive oil has a very smooth taste and a low acidity level of not more than 1%.

The time taken from picking to pressing has a big effect on quality and first pressings of freshly harvested fruit meets the highest standards.

Olive oil that is labelled 'virgin' or 'select' is slightly cheaper but still has a fine taste with an acidity level below 2%. It also comes from first pressings but the fruit may not be as freshly picked.

The tradition of the olive growing and oil production in Greece spans more than five millennia and olive groves are found all over Greece and the Greek Islands.