A hotter than normal summer has caused the olives trees across the province to ripen early, forcing local farmers and families to start the harvest sooner than expected. However, the drought means that the average yield per tree is expected to drop this year.
Around 1.500 people are employed during the olive harvest, mainly by larger companies that produce olive oil for the domestic and international harvest.
But just as important are the small family owned trees. The olive harvest is traditionally the first autumn get together for many families, as they come together for a long weekend plucking the fruit and pruning the trees. Picking the fruit is still task done by hand, even on the big farms, as the trees make it difficult for any machine to reliably pick all the olives on the tree.
Paco Martinez from Vera told me about the annual tradition. His family own some 50 trees, and all come together to help one another gather the harvest. He said: “It’s hard work but worth it, and it’s the first big family gathering after the summer. My father and my uncles all own several trees, so we all help gather all the olives. It might take a weekend or two, but then we have plenty of olive oil and olives to share. In my family it’s almost as big an event as the pig killing; it’s more work but maybe not as messy.”
Manuel Calvache from the almazara (oil press) in Canjayar explained that most of his clients are small landowners. “It’s enough for their needs for the rest of the year. They bring in the olives, we press them to extract the oil, and bottle it. We keep half the oil as payment.”
In recent years vast olive plantations have sprung up in the interior of the province, especially around Tabernas, as the worldwide demand for the oil has increased. Spain is the world leader in olive oil production. The province of Jaen alone produces almost as much olive oil as Greece, some 600,000 tons last year. Almeria produced only 8,263 tons of oil commercially, from the 40,000 tons of olives picked.