Table olive growers in California expect this year’s crop to be about the same size as last year’s, which marked a bit of a recovery for farmers after a series of failed crops, an industry official said.
While an official crop estimate isn’t due out until August, Central Valley growers are reporting their orchards are on about the same pace overall as in 2012, when they produced more than 80,000 tons of olives, said the president of the Olive Growers Council of California in Visalia.
While Northern California’s crop may be quite a bit shorter than last year, there’s a decent set on trees in parts of Tulare County, particularly in northern areas, he said.
Olive growers overall picked more than double the 71,200 tons produced in 2011, according to state and federal agriculture officials. In a typical year, nearly 60 percent of California olives go into oil while the rest is canned for table olives, according to the California Farm Bureau Federation.
Last year’s abundance came after table olive growers suffered through poor crops in four of the previous six seasons, including two years ago when adverse weather during the bloom stifled orchards that were already stressed from the previous year’s heavy loads.
|Black ripe olives (Californian style)|
California produces nearly all of the nation’s commercial table olives, although acreage has been shrinking as growers move to more profitable crops. The president said, that are about 25,000 bearing acres of table olives in the state this year, down from a peak of 40,000 acres.
As labor shortages have lingered, University of California researchers have been trying to perfect a way for table olive growers to use mechanical pruning and harvesting to shave costs. Hiring hand labor represents as much as half a grower’s annual cost, and growers last fall reported having trouble finding full crews or keeping workers from rushing off to other jobs.
It seems that a couple of growers in Glenn County, Calif., who were using machines for harvest and were able to recover 70 percent to 75 percent of the fruit. A grower would need to capture at least 80 percent by machine for it to be economically viable, UC Cooperative Extension researchers have said.
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