What organic means in the Olive Grove: Ruggero Mazzilli
A number of different people have been consulted for this topic such is its complexity, ranging from olive growers to agronomists. The main source of information however was from the highly respected organic viticultural consultant, Ruggero Mazzilli who has famously practiced his art since the 1980s. He works with some of the most highly prized wine growers in Italy and collaborates with many prestigious research institutions. His approach is technical and scientific and whilst his specialization is vineyards, in almost every case there are olive groves on the same estates and his wealth of knowledge and expertise is extensive. http://www.spevis.it/
What makes an olive grove truly organic?
To begin with, there must be the core belief that through experimentation of new techniques you can make the plants more robust and self-sufficient (therefore requiring less chemical intervention). This is the foundation of the organic philosophy. Olive grove owners must take on full responsibility to understand their soil, to tend their trees carefully and regularly keeping hygiene as a priority and this in turn allows greater transparency to anticipate and prevent maladies.
How should we feel about producers who use organic growing techniques but don’t put it on the label?
It’s a personal decision for the producer but I (RM) find if people who practice organic don’t state it it’s because they feel it’s not sufficiently important for their customers. If we look at our consumer research this holds true: people are seeking a guarantee of quality over organic certification. That said, organic farming has it’s risks (climate in particular) and associated costs and because of this, customers should be informed of the practices used in producing their oil.
What have been the greatest challenges in the olive groves for the 2016 harvest and how was this tackled organically?
Certainly the olive fly has presented challenges this year. We need a colder winter to ensure pests like this don’t emerge. Many producers, organic and not, have significantly reduced yields this year throughout Italy as a result of the olive fly and we are still learning about the best ways to tackle it. The Olive fly attacks the fruit – you can see its effects as the fruit rapidly changes colour during September or October. Cleaning the trees well after harvest is a good preventative measure as well as kaolin clay spraying or more widely used fly traps, all of which are organically approved methods.
One of the greatest challenges for the Olive Oil industry is its inconsistent regulation and unreliable certification. Because of this, consumer trust is an issue. Do you find that there is also a lack of trust behind organic certification still or is this improving?
Organic certification is useful and important but there is too much paperwork involved for the producers. Almost everyone agrees that more serious controls in the field and analysis of samples would be preferable. Many great olive oil producers are working organically but not mentioning it. Simplification and transparency of the system would therefore be beneficial to producers and consumers alike.