- Spain is the No. 1 producer of olive oil in the world.
- But lately, olive oil has become so cheap that farmers are unable to make ends meet.
- The development has led to widespread protests in Spain.
- We went inside the facility of the biggest olive oil producer in the world to see how it gets made and how farmers are coping.
- View more episodes of Business Insider Today on Facebook.
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Spain produces about half of the world’s olive oil.
And sometimes, this facility alone makes more oil than the whole country of Italy.
But olive oil has become so cheap that farmers are unable to make ends meet, a development that’s led to widespread protests.
Dcoop is the world’s largest olive oil producer, bringing together 75,000 farmers.
Esteban Carneros, Dcoop corporate relations head: “If not a single olive was collected in this 2019-2020 season, there would still be enough oil from the previous year to supply the market.”
Because of surpluses like this, olive oil has become so cheap that many farmers can’t make a profit from the sale of olives alone.
José Antonio Chicón, olive farmer: “Last year, we would be paid 40 cents per kilo. But this year it won’t reach 30 cents per kilo, which is in fact why the demonstrations are now happening in Jaén, for the olive’s low prices. For us small farmers, we are now losing money to harvest the olives.”
José Antonio has his own farm, but is working in this bigger grove to compensate for falling prices. But many other small farm operators are giving up completely.
Antonio Chicón: “They are replacing the olive groves for almonds and pistachios.”
Today in Spain, half a million families depend on the olive business. Sporadic protests have been held since October to demand action from the government to ensure fair prices.
In early February, Spain’s minister of agriculture, fisheries, and food pledged to address those demands – which could include increasing the bargaining power of cooperatives like Dcoop.
Meanwhile, production continues here at the factory.
Esteban Carneros, Dcoop corporate relations head: “We produce an average of over 200,000 tons per year.”
“In fact, there are years when this cooperative alone produces more than Italy or Greece.”
It all starts in the fields. These machines shake ripened olives out of the trees.
A blower cleans most of the leaves and the olives are trucked to a processing facility.
Álvaro Chacón, Dcoop agricultural technical engineer “For every 5 kilos of olives you can extract 1 kilo of oil.”
After the harvest, farmers big and small unload their crops in processing facilities like this one.
Before those farmers can be paid, they leave a sample of olives, which are taste-tested for quality.
Javier Vidaurreta, Oleoalgaidasdirecting manager: “At the end, the farmer is paid based on the oil that the olive contains and for that purpose they determine the fat yield.”
Before the oil leaves the factory, panels of experts test each finished batch and rank them based solely on their judgment:extra-virgin, virgin, and lampante. A kilo of extra-virgin is worth 20 to 40 cents more than the regular one.
José Maria Horcas, Dcoop tasting panel director: “These people are all trained under the regulations of the International Olive Council.”
Next, the olives are ground into a paste. A centrifugal decanter separates the olive oil that is later stored in huge metal tanks.
Dcoop has the biggest olive oil storage facility in the world, with a capacity of 100 million kilos. Much of it isn’t selling.
The good news is that there is margin to grow.
Carneros: “Olive oil only represents 3% of the world’s consumption of edible vegetable oils. We have to believe in the colour of the olive, the green of hope, and trust that we will reverse the situation.”