Farmers have been forced to form their own vigilante groups to carry out night time patrols of olive groves after recording a significant rise in the number of robberies.
With Spanish olive reserves low after the industry suffered two consecutive years of poor seasons, prices have surged since the start of the year by more than fifty percent.
And after a long hot summer, 2015 promises to produce a bumper harvest but the downside of high prices and easy pickings is that thieving gangs have moved in to cash in the crop.
“Gangs are becoming more organized, where once they stole the odd sack of olives now they are making off with exhorbitant amounts from the trees themselves,” explained Juan Metidieri, head of the Agricultural Association of the Young farmers of Extremadura (ASAJA).
“Farmers are having to organize night patrols of the estates in an effort to protect their crops,” Metidieri told El Mundo.
Farmers are calling for added state support in patrolling olive groves that stretch across swathes of southern Spain, making the nation the biggest producer of olives in the world.
Regional governments in Andalusia and Extremadura have been asked to fork out for extra security including laying on helicopter patrols and installing CCTV systems.
Producers are also lobbying for a tightening of controls that govern the buying of olives and olive oils to prevent rogue sellers offloading black market produce.
Each week dozens of robberies are reported across olive producing areas and Equipo ROCA, Civil Guard units dedicated to fighting agricultural crime, are now co-ordinating volunteer farmer patrol groups.
“The Civil Guard are doing a good job but it is difficult to prevent thefts because the farms are so large and are often not fenced,” explained Juan Martos, an agronomist from Ubeda, adding that of the 264,000 kilograms of olives reported stolen in the region last year, the Civil Guard recovered 92,000 kg.
But if a volunteer patrol comes across a gang of thieves they call the Civil Guard to assist.
“When we find trucks parked up where they shouldn’t be, we warn the Civil Guard,” one farm patrol group told El Mundo.
“We dare not confront the gangs because it could turn violent. A farmer was killed in Ciudad Real and even if you do see them off, they can return and destroy the entire olive harvest as an act of retaliation.”
Spain produces around 50 percent of the world’s olive oil, making it the largest olive oil producer in the world, although much of it has traditionally been sold to Italy and bottled there.