Olive growers face challenging season with limited water supply, extreme heat

Olives April 23, 2019

With harvest starting in some parts of South Australia, some farmers are now seeing fruit that has not developed to full size or has shrivelled due to the lack of water.

Despite the seasonal challenges, many have managed to still grow good quality and above-average olive crops. Australian Olive Association CEO Greg Seymour said he believed regions reliant on rainfall saw crop reductions, but even growers who had a good supply of water saw above-average crops.

"In these periods of hot spells in South Australia we lost a lot of flower and we lost a lot of fruit," Mr Seymour said. "Overall, we might be just on the high side of an average year. "So, it's not desperation, it's not champagne, it's just a good, solid season." As growers had to use more water to nurture their trees and water prices are high, Mr Seymour thought it was a challenge for growers to get that extra cost back.

Water supply challenges growers
Olive grower and marketing manager of Prema Bros in the Adelaide Plains, Domenic Catanzariti, said their crop was looking good, but some fruit was quite small because it did not have any rainfall since November. "We had to irrigate a lot and the people that didn't have irrigation, it just wouldn't have developed the fruit properly," he said.

Roger Hefford and Megan McKenzie are one of the few commercial olive growers left in South Australia's Riverland. They had top quality oil content come from their olives this season. "We are really happy with the yield and our oil content was 30 per cent this year. Last year we got 22 per cent, so our oil volume was up," Mr Hefford said.

"It's really bitter, it is high in polyphenols count which keeps longer and is just a better-quality oil. "With next year's water restrictions I am not sure how much water we will end up with. "That might play a bigger part in it for us next year, not being able to irrigate as much, but let's hope that we get some rain."

Mr Seymour said several producers have left the olive industry in recent times due to the high cost of water and limited water access. "Producers are looking for the highest value return they can get per megalitre, and there are other crops around at the current time paying a higher return than growing olives," he said.

High-density groves cut labour costs
Mr Hefford diversified into growing a super high-density olive grove in 2015 — not only to mechanically harvest but also to save on costs.  He said many growers in the Riverland left the industry because they had traditional groves, where plantings where further apart and a lot of hand labour was involved.

"On the super high-density grove we use grape harvesters to get our crop off, so we can harvest 20,000 trees in about eight hours," Mr Hefford said. "If you've got traditional groves and you are racking them off, or handpicking, or even your side-by-side shakers, they are a lot slower.

"It ends up costing you a lot more money to produce the product and the returns aren't high enough to cover the excess in wages and extra freight costs and all the things that go along with that."

He said many olive growers around the world, even in traditional olive growing areas such as Spain and Italy, were converting to high-density groves due to the faster harvesting process and higher crop volumes per hectare.


Source: SA Country Hour

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