Cretan Organic Olive Oil Orchards Produce Similar Quality and Yields

Organic olives and their oil have a reputation for being healthier and more nutritious, and their demand has grown over the last 40 years in Mediterranean countries. Despite growing evidence that organic practices can increase the quality and nutrition of food crops in general, a study published in Agronomy is one of the first to provide evidence that organic production can improve olive oil quality in Greece.  

Researchers from Crete found that the overall yield of olive fruits and the amount of oil they produced was similar between organic and nonorganic orchards, with oil content 10% higher in organic.  

Higher oil content in olives from organic orchards suggests widespread use of organic methods may increase rather than decrease olive oil yields in southern Crete and other Mediterranean regions. Soil health and better water retention from organic practices may also explain for the higher crop yields.

Olive fruit fly is a major pest of olives and infestations increase oil acidity and reduce quality, presenting challenges to organic olive oil farms that do not use synthetic pesticides. Researchers think lower Olive fruit fly pressure due to the region’s climate and mass trapping practices may have also contributed to the study’s findings. 

Organic and nonorganic orchards met ISO criteria for high-quality extra-virgin olive oil and did not measure phenols, noting that a study in Spain found higher levels of phenols (antioxidant activity) in organic olive oil.  

Nonorganic orchards in the study used synthetic pesticides to manage pests with some mechanical weeding and organic orchards used nonchemical methods, such as mechanical weeding, pruning, and mass trapping to manage pests, with some natural pesticide applications. 

The researchers suggest further efforts in understanding organic and nonorganic practices and their impact on concentrations of phenolics and other phytochemicals with antioxidant activity. The study also notes organophosphate residues for managing Olive fruit fly are a quality issue in nonorganic olive oil. 

To learn more about the science of organic farming along with some inspiration for cooking with organic ingredients, visit The Organic Center’s recipe page:

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