By Patrick Cavanaugh and
In exclusive interviews
TODAY, CaliforniaAgToday focused on the California olive industry.
While fresh table olives are
still being harvested in Northern California the harvest is finally completed
elsewhere in the state. “Most importantly the industry is trying to get the
rest of the big crop off as fast as it can, before any rain comes, on top of
labor shortages,” said Alex Ott,
Executive Director of the California Olive Committee, based in Fresno.
“The labor has been very
short. Instead of completing a job in one week, it was taking two weeks,” Ott
said. “Labor is our top concern as the fresh olive industry competes with
everyone else relying on hand harvests.
Labor has been such a
persistent problem for the olive industry, a lot of research is focused on
mechanical harvest methods such as a wrap around system similar to prune and
pistachio harvesters. “This is definitely the way of the future and all new
orchards are being planted and pruned properly so that they can adapt to
mechanical system,” said Ott.
“The problem is what do you
do with those orchards that have been there for 60 years. And if a grower were
to rip those out, why would he go with another hand-labor intensive crop,”
asked Ott. “I would plant almonds or walnuts which are not only mechanically
harvested, but the rate of return is greater than olives.”
|Older Trees Not Adapted to Mechanical Harvest|
That’s the dilemma of the
California olive industry is in. At what point does the industry covert, while
also keeping in mind the lower return growers are getting for their black or
green ripe olives. “Does it make more sense for growers to go with another crop
that doesn’t have such issues,” asked Ott.
Production this year is
predicted to be well over 80,000 tons. Last year’s production of 78,740 tons.
In 2011 the production was 27,012 tons and in 2010 production was 164,984 tons.
“It’s an alternate bearing crop and was a little surprising that we are up this
year, following last year’s on crop,” Ott said.
“What is happening here is
that growers have initiated improved pruning techniques, which is causing more
consistency in crops from year to year. This is good for the olive industry,
instead of wild swings each year,” Ott said.
Olive Oil Industry is Up Too
Patricia Darragh, Executive Director of the California Olive Oil Council, reported that
estimated California Olive Oil production for the 2013-2014 winter season is
3.0 million gallons, compared to 2.4 last year, double the 1.2 million the prior
year, with fantastic quality. Olive is the fastest growing specialty crop in
Versus last year,
third-quarter California Extra Virgin Olive Oil represents 20.5% growth of the
overall third quarter 41.6% growth nationally. California growth is ascribed to
increased consumer demand, excellent health features, ideal climate, and plants
attributes of drought-resistance, dry-farmable and indeterminable tree life.
California produces 99% of the product nationally, mostly in the Sacramento
Valley, with Central Valley a close second.
This year saw a resurgence of
the olive fruit fly, attributed to typically non-treated landscape olive trees.
“The most widely used olive in California,
among its 100 varieties, is Arbequina, originally from Spain,” said Darragh,
“and is a lovely mild, fruity, grassy variety.”
“In contrast with The
European olive oil industry, the California industry grows many olive varieties
and is creative in its blending, and that is the fun,” Darragh said.
Specializing in marketing and
trade, the Council collaborates with the UC Davis Olive Center, which focuses
on research and science.
The Council is proud of its
Sensory Panel, established in 1998, the first in North America.
Labels: Alex Ott, California Ag, California Ag Today, California Olive Oil, California Olives, Fresh Olive Crop Big, Laurie Greene, Patricia Darragh, Patrick Cavanaugh