Day 9: Olive Oil Milling & Greenhouse Produce – March 5th

Today we traveled from Antequera to Malaga to Motril, across the southern coast of Spain. We moved through rural countryside and small towns, to Malaga – a city of roughly 569,000 people – and then back on the coastal highway to experience the ever-changing landscape of mountains, mango trees and expansive Mediterranean Sea views.

Our morning destination was OleoAlgaidas, a part of the Dcoop Group, which started in 1951 and now consists of 1,000 members with approximately 7,000 hectares of trees. They added the oil plant in 2000. OleoAlgaidas produces 12-15% of the world production of olive oil, while the facility is in operation from November to March. Last year they produced 5,000 tons of oil. This is highly dependent on the rain and weather patterns. In top years they can produce 10,000 tons. The Dcoop Group has an annual membership fee and farmers must sell all of their product to the cooperative, but do not receive a paid patronage. 75% of olive oil sector is in this cooperative-type system.

We were introduced to the chief of the coop, Vidau Rreda, who showed us everything from the receiving lines to the end product. Olives first are received at one of eight receiving lines, where they are separated by variety and quality. While there are over 60 different varieties of olives, the three basic commercial types are blanca (90%), picual and arbequina. The quality of an olive is based on if it is harvested from the tree or collected from the ground. Ground olives are low quality, but will likely not make extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) status. They process 5,000 tons of olives daily. Olives consist of water, solids and oil, of which oil is 18-22%. They separate these components using only physical processes (such as the hammer mill), not chemical. That then yields a paste, that they turn and heat lightly to 27-28 degrees Celsius. The oil is contained in the membranes and can only be released with heat. They enter two sets of centrifuges, horizontal which separates by mass – and vertical, which clarifies the oil. This is extra virgin olive oil! EVOO is just the first oil and only comes from clean and dry olives from the fields. Oil is then stored fr 48 hours, with a little heat, which allows the solids to settle out. They purge the solids every two hours until the oil is only liquid. They separate the pits in the subproduct, which they use for energy at their own mills. The remainder is moved to lower quality, non-consumption mills, where they use chemical separation and high heat to extract the last 4% of oil from the olive subproduct.

Then we traveled from Malaga, a harbor city where we spent time sightseeing and eating lunch. From Malaga, we saw mango, avocado and anona trees. Some were in open, terraced land production, with others under greenhouse plastic. This land was traditionally an area for sugarcane, but has pretty much all transitioned to fruit and veggie production. This coastal area is considered the “salad bar of Europe” because of its extremely high biomass.

Our afternoon tour was at Bio Procam, a fruit and vegetable producer and packager. The field technician and ag engineer, Eduardo Malanado, greeted us and showed us around the greenhouse facilities. Irrigation is controlled from a central computer, in a building next to the greenhouses. Plants receive water for 20 minutes every two days. Water comes in from the Sierra Nevadas mountain range and is filtered for use. With this system, one person can control 10 hectares of land.

Bio Procam began 30 years ago and was the first of firsts for organic production. We saw two different greenhouse facilities, the first was cucumbers at their end stage. They also planted cabbage and wheat underneath the vertical cucumber vines. The cabbage was planted to remove salt from the soil. The wheat was infected with aphids to provide a food source for a small wasp species that serves as natural pest control for the entire facility. They also have bait boards for red spider mites, thrips and white flies. White flies are the most problematic due to reproducing a new generation every 72 hours during summer months. The facilities are double roofed to help keep heat in from the sun, which shines 320 days a year here in this region and provide air movement. They white wash the outside of the plastic to reflect the sun, which is most important during the hot summer heat. They change the plastic every three years. After the cucumbers are harvested, they will plant yellow melons for the next 60 days. Following the melons they will plant mustard seeds and radish for biofermagation (natural disinfectant). And lastly in September they will begin the wheat, cabbage, cucumber rotation again.


The second greenhouse we visited was one of tomatoes, the Normande variety from South France. This is a salad tomato which is red with green patches and matures from the inside out. It is preferred because of its strong tomato taste and sells for $1.40/kg in Europe. Approximately 150,000 kilograms (kg) of tomatoes are harvested per hectare. Tomatoes are harvested daily, as customers require produce to be delivered within 72 hours of harvest.

After the field tours, our group had an opportunity to go to the packaging plant. Here Eduardo and Sergio, the plant manager guided us through several different produce varieties and packaging options. Due to the current time of year, approximately 50% of the produce received will not make first choice, the remainder will go to industry and food banks to feed two million Spaniards (of the 45 million total population). The plant has one shift consisting of 5 hours, a break and then the remaining 3 hours, Monday through Saturday. They are the only plant in this region that allows for the break, which is conducive to family balance. They employee 20-120 people depending on the season. During our tour Eduardo and Sergio showed us cucumbers, California style (red bell) peppers, round tomatoes, eggplant, squash, mango, beans, zucchini and avocado. The plant processes 10 million kg of fruits (40%) and vegetables (60%) each year for 70-80 customers – large European chains and small Spanish supermarkets. Eduardo explained packaging is various and is customized based on customer demand.

Our group ended our busy day in Almunecar, enjoying the sunset from our hotel on the beachfront of the Mediterranean Sea.