Olive groves in Germany? Climate change may make it happen

Olive groves in Germany? Climate change may make it happen Climate Puenderich, Germany  - Olive oil made in Germany may soon be a reality if a plan by a couple from Cologne comes to fruition. "My wife and I already own an olive grove in Turkey with 400 trees and three years ago we came up with the idea of trying to cultivate them in Germany too," explained Bernd Schaefer, holding up a bottle of the golden-yellow liquid to the light and regarding it critically.

The couple has rented 4,000 hectare of well-drained soil on the steep, hilly banks of the Mosel river at Puenderich in Rhineland-Palatinate state and the first groves of 200 trees were planted in March 2009. "We're embarking on a big adventure here since no-one has tried it before. If it doesn't work out, all the work will have been for nothing and the trees will just die," said Schaefer's wife Ayse-Aktul, highlighting the risky nature of the project.

Cold, frosty snaps in the winter could wreak havoc with the couple's plan to press oil from olives along the Mosel since prolonged temperatures of below six degrees celsius damage the trees. "Of course we're in Germany and that can happen but the idea has really captured our imagination and we're stubborn too," said Bernd. It will be at least three years before the first trees bear olives and the couple expects to wait seven years in all before achieving a harvest of any commercial value.

The Schaefers are relying on climate change to ensure that their dream comes true: "It is getting warmer in Germany. Many vintners are benefiting from this and have begun planting types of grapes which used to thrive only in Italy and the South of France," said Bernd.

"If Cabernet-Sauvignon suddenly starts growing like mad at Kaiserstuhl in Baden why shouldn't we try out olives in Rhineland-Palatinate," said Schaefer. Professor Peter Braun from Geisenheim College takes a more sober view. "It is an interesting project and naturally the climate in the region is in transition. On the other hand, I cannot predict with any degree of certainty whether olive trees would survive the winter along the Mosel."

The optimism of the Schaefers appears boundless and they have signed a 50-year lease for the land along the Mosel. "We have also laid the foundations for the next olive grove in Germany," said Bernd. They plan to plant a similarly-sized area of olive trees at Zell in the Zeller valley area next spring.

The first trees were put into the ground a few weeks ago and the Schaefers will be watching carefully to see how these weather the winter. And what happens if they wither and die? Bernd and his wife say they will not allow themselves to be disheartened by such setbacks. One day, the bluish-black fruits of the olive tree will be ripening in central Germany - of that they are certain. (dpa)