22 Aug

Olive harvest the pits?

by C. Jerome Crow,

While prices are good, the outlook for this year’s olive crop is less than ideal, according to the Olive Growers Council of California.

While this year’s olive prices may be reasonably good, that doesn’t mean it will be a good year if there isn’t enough fruit to cover the cost, said Adin Hester of the Olive Growers Council of California.

Hester is the president of the council, a cooperative bargaining association that negotiates the prices of table olives for growers with the major olive processors.

This year’s crop is estimated to be between 38,000 and 45,000 tons, according to figures provided by the council.

However, factors such as weather complications during the late winter and spring bloom periods have resulted in scattered crops and an extremely light harvest.

“Many growers question whether or not they will attempt to harvest because of low tonnage and a shortage of labor,” said Hester. “The prices established during negotiations are reasonably good, but there will be few if any growers able to harvest enough tons to even cover their costs.”

Hester said that he hopes that on the bright side, this year’s price schedule will send growers a message that will tell growers there is a future in olives and that they must continue farming to produce consistent tonnage and high quality olives for retail customers.

“California olive acreage has shrunk in recent years down to less than 29,000 acres as growers push out trees, frustrated that they cannot make money because of increased growing and harvest cost,” said Hester.

Also complicating this is competition from countries like Spain, Morocco and now Egypt, Argentina and Turkey to provide olives for the food service industry.

“Foreign competition can sell much cheaper into the U.S. market,” said Hester. “As a result, they now control the pizza business along with other fast food service providers with low cost, marginal quality olives. But we still control the retail market and will fight to maintain California’s position.”

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