Gone are the days when the disturbing pace at which our climate is evolving was an elephant in the room that we didn’t wish to mention. The past, strange 24 months have surely brought even the most sceptical out of obscurity with constant alarms of flash flooding, wild fires, extreme droughts and excessive temperatures.
Climatic extremes are of massive concern to agriculture and where we live in rural Italy, it’s a palpable sensation. From the very late and intense freeze this year across central Italy to the wild fires in Sicily and Sardegna over the summer, farmers up and down the country are overflowing with concern.
Reading about the risk that intensive olive farming in Southern Spain is leading to potential desertification confirms to me that we can’t keep asking more of our land without listening more carefully. The Olive Tree is supremely resilient, it has survived for many thousands of years in the Mediterranean but we need to accept that there will be years when it will give less. Like all life, the olive tree needs to be respected for shutting down if it gets too hot or too cold, for not bearing fruit if it is unable to sustain its growth, for giving clear signals if it is unhappy. As our understanding grows of sub-soil communications and how plant life manages to build natural resilience it is surely time to improve our listening, to increase the values we place on organic and sustainable farming practices, to support in particular the smaller farmers who are so conscientious and intuitive to their land. But there is a number attached to this, and it’s higher than we think. We can’t keep getting more for less.
As we catch up with our growers ahead of the 2021 harvest, we are hearing that the yields are likely to be significantly reduced this year, not least because of the intense summer heat spikes. The effect of this however has been to concentrate the olives, so whilst it’s still a little too early to call, the likelihood is that intense flavours as well as polyphenolic concentrations will be high. Many of you will be thrilled to hear that.