By Julie R. Johnson,
Officials are scratching their heads as to why this year’s olive crop is the pits. “The crop looked really good early on,” said Doug Compton, assistant commissioner of the Tehama County Agriculture Department. “But then we began hearing reports of poor fruit set from olive growers.”
Across the state, Tehama County appears to be one of the least-affected areas. Compton said southern counties and even Glenn County seem to be harder hit than local orchards.
Jean Miller, Glenn County Agriculture Department assistant commissioner, said she only became aware of the fruit set problem on Thursday.
“Since that time I have been contacting many of the area olive growers, including California Olive Ranch, to gain some understanding of how bad the problem is,” she said. “What I have learned so far is that the damage has affected some areas worse than others, with some orchards not having any problems at all.”
As for the reason, while there are a number of possibilities, officials said it is too early to know if there is one single culprit.
“What we do know,” Compton said, “is that we have a number of factors that could be the cause. Hot weather during the blooming season, unseasonable rains and frosts, all of which can cause poor pollination.”
He explained that for an olive fruit to properly set, the pollen grain has to travel down the flower’s pollen tube to fertilize the fruit.
“If the temperature is too hot with low humidity, the pollination doesn’t occur correctly and growers get no fruit or what we call shot berries, which are tiny fruit that doesn’t develop and eventually falls off the tree,” Compton said.
Miller said that two weeks ago she conducted a workshop in an olive orchard in Glenn County, when someone pointed out that there were very few olives on the tree and that they were very tiny.
“Those where the shot berries Doug was talking about,” Miller said.
Table olive grower Ross Turner, of Corning, said a month ago his bloom looked great and he expected a good crop.
“All that has changed. With the poor pollination we got this year I don’t expect much at this point,” he said.
Compton said that “at this point, it is too soon to know how significant the loss will be. We know that so far the Manzanillo table olive has been hit pretty hard, but it is too early to predict the set of the Sevillano crop. What we do know is that everything is less than expected and that is hard news for growers.”
This is the third year in the last four that the state’s olive crop has been less than expected. Along with this bad news, olive growers have to contend with the high cost of fighting an olive fruit fly infestation and high labor costs. Olives are hand-picked.
Miller said these problems are driving some olive growers to uproot their olive trees and plant other crops.
In Tehama County, olives are the number four tree crop, following walnuts, almonds and prunes in that order.
Olives also are fourth in tree crops in Glenn County, following almonds, walnuts and prunes.