24 May

Passionate about olives

By Louise Bettison

LEARNING to distinguish between table and oil olive trees should be compulsory for anyone wanting to establish an olive farm, according to grower Donald Mackenzie.

A farmer for many years but self-taught in the supposedly ‘lucrative’ olive trade, he discovered two years ago that the trees he had slaved over were of the table variety and while they produce a small amount of oil, it is not enough for financial security.

One of roughly six olive growers in the Esperance region, Mr Mackenzie completed his harvest last week; growers of oil varieties start this week.

“You have one good year then one bad one and that’s just the way it goes,” Mr Mackenzie said.

“Last year was very good and I had 800kg but this year has brought only 100kg, barely 5kg per tree.”

In his five years as an olive grower, Mr Mackenzie has answered the wind, snails and countless double-Gs with rows of peppermint trees, a flock of ducks and backbreaking work respectively.

But he remains passionate about the work, saying the challenge keeps his mind and body active as he ages.

Once pruning is complete, he will start grafting oil olive tree limbs onto the existing table olive trees, thereby ensuring future income from oil sales.

For grower Graham Patroni, olive farming is a lifestyle choice and a dramatic change from work in the corporate sector.

“We were thinking about our little property and what on earth we should do with it and the answer was ‘get into olives’, but then we went the whole hog and built a factory, too,” Mr Patroni said.

“We set it up four years ago and use the traditional method, cold-pressing by hand with no centrifuges or things like that, as it produces a better quality product.”

Selling his product from the farm gate, he said there are only two other processors in Western Australia who use the traditional method.

“It’s just us, a farmer in Hyden and the New Norcia monks doing it this way,” Mr Patroni said.

“I’ve turned over a completely new leaf to do this and though we’ve had an average year, things are going well.”

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