Italy could be forced to import olive oil because of extreme weather

An olive oil farmer checks olives near Florence, Tuscany.

(CNN)Italy could soon be forced to import olive oil to stem a dramatic decline in production, a climate scientist has warned, as extreme weather events wreak havoc with harvests and threaten a shortage of one of the country's most essential culinary products.

Bad weather and frost have crippled the olive oil industry in recent months, causing a 57% drop in production over 2018 and costing the sector almost 1 billion euros ($1.13bn).
The fall has forced oil farmers onto the streets in protest this year, calling for aid and new measures to reverse the trend.
    But extreme weather caused by climate change is likely to further damage the sector and could force Italians to look abroad for olive oil, according to Riccardo Valentini, director of the Impacts Division at the Euro-Mediterranean Center for Climate Change.
    "We are getting more and more into this complex climate situation of extremes," Valentini told CNN. "In terms of production, probably we can expect this [decline] occurring more and more, if we're not able to cope with this."
    "Olive trees are very sensitive to certain climatic conditions -- sometimes three days of freezing [temperatures] are more important than an average temperature over the year," he added.
    Europe has fallen victim to radical hot and cold weather events in recent years, which scientists say are often caused or exacerbated by man-made climate change.
    Italy was hit by a cold snap caused by the "beast from the east" in February 2018, before soaring heat swept the continent in the summer and strong winds and floods battered the Mediterranean nation in October.
    Olive oil farmers from Puglia, one carrying a sign reading "In love with our land," protest during this year's olive oil crisis in February.