Land cultivation in Malta is very challenging, this is mainly due to natural constraints resulting from the size and geography of the Maltese Islands. Agriculture in Malta has been around for thousands of years with farmers adapting and adopting practices that allow the sector to function in a productive way. Maltese agriculture can be characterized by its diverse outputs throughout the year with some crops being prominent on different seasons. Tomatoes for processing occupy a good portion of the agricultural land in the northern part of Malta and Gozo during the summer months. On the other hand, potatoes harvested occupy the south-eastern part of Malta during the winter months. During the summer season, vineyards are prominently present around the Maltese islands consisting of an area of over 450ha. While, olives are harvested in September and citrus in December. Other products, such as brassicas, cucurbits, alliums and other solanaceous crops are grown all year round. Locally produced fruit and vegetables travel less than 50 Km from field to fork.
Potatoes – The first record of potato growing in Malta takes us back to the beginning of 19th Century when it was introduced by Alexander Ball, the first governor of Malta. Along the years, cultivation of potatoes increased and as a result, the potato crop become to be a cash crop for Maltese farmers. The harvest seasons runs from end of March through the beginning of June. Due to the small size of arable land it is quite challenging to harvest by making use of large machinery, thus harvesting is done manually. Though this is very tiring for the farmer, one advantage is that the skin of the freshly harvested potatoes is not harmed, giving a longer shelf life to the potato. Typical Maltese dishes that include the potato as their main ingredient, include Patata l-Forn, which is a meat or fish roast on a bed of sliced potatoes, and Stuffat tal-Majjal jew tal-Fenek, which is a stew with pork or rabbit stew but also includes various vegetables and most importantly potatoes.
Did you know that: Malta exports more than 6000 tons of Potatoes each year.
Tomatoes – In the Maltese Island tomatoes are cultivated during the long hot summer on small family run farms, produced for processing as well as for fresh table consumption. The local production of tomatoes for processing, produce a number of Maltese specialties such as the traditional Maltese Kunserva paste and sun dried tomatoes. Both products are essential ingredients used in the traditional Ħobż biż-Żejt. Nowadays although these products are still produced on a domestic scale for family use, both sun dried tomatoes and Kunserva among other products are produced on an industrial scale in modern facilities.
Olives & Olive Oil – Malta has the perfect climate for the cultivation of the olive tree due to its typical Mediterranean Climate resulting in a long cultivation history . The ever increasing importance of the extra virgin olive oil as part of a healthy diet coupled with the dynamics of the local agriculture, during the last 20 years the cultivation of this tree increased considerably. Many varieties are cultivated and in the recent years, more importance is being given to local varieties, in particular the variety of ‘Tal-Bidni’. Given the increasing surface area dedicated to the cultivation of the olive tree particularly for the production of olive oil, Malta experienced an increase in the number of olive mills, with a total of 9 licensed olive mills for the year 2019.
Wine – Malta has 3 registered quality wines: DOK Malta, DOK Gozo and IĠT Maltese Islands. DOK stands for the Maltese phrase “Denominazzjoni ta’ l-Oriġini Kontrollata” meaning that quality wines are produced from grapes grown on the respective island (Malta or Gozo), and that have followed stringent production protocols, both in the vineyard and in the winery. Some varieties cultivated for DOK Malta and DOK Gozo are Girgentina, Chardonnay, Ġellewża, Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Vermentino and Cabernet Franc. IĠT Maltese Islands are quality wines produced with less stringent rules from the DOK, but nevertheless utilising quality oriented production protocols to produce wine originating from the Maltese Islands.
Did you know that: In Malta we produce (annually) around two million bottles of quality wine enough to fill 5000 baths.
Citrus – The history of citrus in Malta started during the Roman period with the introduction of the citron. This was followed by the Seville orange, the lemon and the sweet lime during the Moorish occupation, the Portuguese orange during the reign of the Knights of St John, and the mandarin, the Clementine, the grapefruit, the pummelo and the Bahia orange during the British colonial era. During the time of the Knights of St John citrus cultivation was extensive within enclosed gardens and in the less exposed valleys found all over the Islands feeding the higher classes of Europe. During the 20th Century there was the export of grafted trees to most of the countries around the Mediterranean and beyond, sealing the reputation of the Maltese orange as being the finest in the world, with markets in India, Bangladesh, and Northern African countries to this day still exposing the Maltese orange for sale. In Malta, every household with a front or back garden posses at least an orange and a lemon tree. All citrus fruit are recognised as being a main source of vitamin C and vitamin A, and are commonly eaten fresh or squeezed into juice, while the fruit of the sour or Seville orange is popularly converted into marmalade.