Northern Italy drought threatens olive oil, risotto rice and passata supplies

By Sarah Butler

Supplies of olive oil, risotto rice and passata are under threat as northern Italy suffers its worst drought in 70 years, stirring up the cost of living crisis further.

Specialist importers are preparing for price rises of as much as 50% or more for rice and tomatoes and are considering looking for new sources of supply, after growers in the Po valley, the home of arborio rice used in risotto, warned of a “significant reduction” in crop yields this year.

Kyle Holland, an analyst at market research group Mintec, said some market sources suggest Italian production of olive oil could be between 20% and 30% down on last year.

He said there could be a “substantial dent in global supply” of the oil as hot and dry weather in Spain is expected to reduce crops there by up to 15%.

“We are already seeing some olive trees producing no fruit, which only happens when soil moisture levels are critically low,” Holland said. “According to industry contacts, the lower production and, therefore, limited supply of olive oil is likely to cause prices to increase in the coming months.”

He said there could be a “substantial dent in global supply” of the oil as hot and dry weather in Spain is expected to reduce crops there by up to 15%.

Walter Zanre, the UK managing director of olive oil specialist Filippo Berio, told The Grocer trade journal: “Unless it rains very soon, the olive crop will be dramatically reduced.” He added that the drought was also likely to reduce crops of apricots, peaches and pears.

Prices of Italian extra virgin olive oil are already up 28% on two years ago, according to Mintec, as global supplies of cooking oils have been squeezed by the war in Ukraine, a major producer of sunflower seeds and oil, and by difficulties bringing in the palm oil harvest in south-east Asia.

Jason Bull, the chief executive of Eurostar Commodities which imports rice and tomatoes from Italy, said he was likely to have to look elsewhere for stocks. “I don’t think we are going to get much out of Italy and what we are going to get will be very expensive,” he said.

The costs of Italian rice and tomatoes have already more than doubled in cost in the past two years, according to Mintec.

“Farmers are saying there is no snow on the Alps when there is always snow there, rivers are drying up, the lake is drying up,” Bull said. “Farmers are carrying on planting but they are worried [crops] are going to rot in the ground as there is no water to feed them.”

Tomatoes are expected to be harvested in the next fortnight, earlier than usual because of the hot weather, and prices are expected to rise again for the latest crop. Rice prices are expected to be up at least 20% for the crop being harvested in October.

Italy has declared a state of emergency in five northern regions and announced emergency funds over the worsening drought in the Po valley.

Italy’s largest agricultural union, Coldiretti, has said the drought threatens more than 30% of the country’s agricultural production and half of the farms in the Po valley, where Parma ham is produced.

The north of the country is not used to drought conditions and so does not have the same irrigation systems as those that help southern farmers cope with dry weather.

This article has been republished from The Guardian.

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