Securing olive harvests with GPS tracking

From the very first moment in this world, humans tend to attach meanings, which tend to grow with time, while personality simultaneously takes shape with a cultural impact on it. With value created through giving meaning to things and geography’s presence dictating the rules of agriculture, Greeks are greatly known for considering olive oil to be liquid gold. Their production seeks about 400,000 tones of olive oil (75% of it is Extra Virgin Olive Oil) and 120,000 tons of table olives every year. In the past years, olive oil consumption has dropped, and the prices have risen, affected by climate changes – due to warmer climate, droughts, increased pests, and diseases have impoverished olive trees, influencing drop-down in production. In the meantime, thefts have increased, leading to huge losses of harvest, making it even more significant to guard olive trees.

While liquid gold plays a significant role in a country’s culture and cuisine, its value increased even more when thefts of olives were reported in October 2023 around all of Greece, including Crete. Earlier that month, an enormous quantity of olive oil was stolen from olive oil farms in Nothern Greece, Chalkidiki peninsula, Polygros town, which unites around two hundred local producers. One farming cooperative lost fifty-two tons of olive oil valued at around 356000 euros.

To overcome such challenges and avoid the aforementioned kinds of losses, understanding in what ways thefts can be committed is significant. Mostly there are two kinds of it: stealing already pressed olive oil or unlawfully taking ripened olives directly from olive trees. In the first case, thieves are breaking into the warehouse to take containers with olive oil or pump the liquid from big tanks to already prepared, smaller transportation containers placed in their vehicles. Not to mention, it can even be done by pretending to be a legal carrier by providing false documents, leading to the necessity for strengthening documentary checks. In the second case, tree branches are cut with a chainsaw before olives are transported to extract oil from them or used for preservation, resulting in damaging trees and reduced future harvesting potential. In fact, knowing that the olive tree can take about 3-6 years to grow from seed to provide fruits, accordingly, it can take up to 10-15 years to reach full harvesting potential, it is crucial to keep trees in the healthiest state possible. Consequently, finding thieves in the early stage of crime to prevent as much damage mentioned earlier as possible is crucially important, so serving this purpose, the GPS chip implantation into olive oil containers, as on branches of olive trees, would be one of the great problem-solving options.

Under the reliability of GPS technology growing exponentially in recent years with a wide range of adaptability to many areas, this method for olive tracking was first exposed to be proven efficient in 2019 in Spain, at a time the country’s production capability had outstretched to two million tons of olive oil. While Spaniards were among the first to adopt this kind of use in GPS tracking gadgets, Crete’s farmers, embracing new possible ways for guarding their harvest, had run the tests integrating this innovative technology with a positive response.

In the presence of raised concerns by Myros Hiletzakis, the vice president of the Association of Farming Cooperatives of Heraklion, olives are one of the main targets for thefts, which results in significant damage to the trees in the long term. Most attempts of stealing occur during the ongoing harvest season, meaning that by this time, fake olives need to have not only gone through the experimental stage but should already be implanted on trees. On the other hand, although the delay in accepting the use of GPS technology may bring some loss in real time, understanding the details of the GPS tracking process remains a significant reason to wait and explore all opportunities that technology offers, which would help predict and prepare to overcome any struggle with location positioning, stable connection and fast response to any suspicious activity.

Attaching the microchip, which looks identical to a ripened olive, to the trees most vulnerable to theft in the field could be perceived as an alarm system. In the tree owner’s smartphone screen, through a specifically designed GPS tracking application, a real-time notification appears when the GPS tracker is moved from its place three or more meters. Such suspicious location changes of a GPS gadget lead to stopping the thievery right away. Otherwise, in the absence of the impossibility of reacting in real-time, the criminal could be caught by following the tracked olive paths that are saved in the smartphone, keeping the farmer’s mind at peace. Although not all trees can be monitored at once due to enormous fields, focusing on the most vulnerable ones, which are unlighted in most remote areas, prevents thievery and saves up a meaningful part of the harvest, leaving trees healthier for the following year.

Moreover, in that rare case when the GPS tracking system crashes down, an intelligent olive is commonly designed to include accurate information about the precise origin and batch number of individual olives, which is recognized using radiofrequency pistols to scan harvest right before being accepted in cooperatives. Additionally to it, another advantage to mention is that chips are waterproof, so they can fit with ease into the liquid gold containers aimed to prevent tons of olive oil transportation to unknown destinations. Due to the presence of any inconsistencies with the provided origin location, the illegal property is returned to the farmer by law enforcement.

The growing interest in GPS tracking systems to sustain the security of plants and fruits makes the price more affordable as it becomes usual among farmers in Greece. For instance, in 2019, the price of one fake olive, including a GPS locator, was promoted to be 29,99 euros. In different sources, it is found that one olive tree can produce 20 to 72 kilograms of fruits and ten olive trees are needed to extract 100 kilograms of olive oil (squeezing around 450 kilograms of olives). Considering that 100 kg (100 L) of olive oil is valued at 1000 euros, paying less than 300 euros for ten GPS gadgets is a great long-term investment, keeping in mind that olive farm cooperatives and producers exploring the technology united and not every tree needs to be tracked, the price can be reduced even more.