`Australian Producers Expect Another Excellent Harvest - Olive Oil Times

Australian Producers Expect Another Excellent Harvest

Apr. 11, 2022
Paolo DeAndreis

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An expan­sion of the country’s olive groves and mostly favor­able weather mean Australians expect an excel­lent har­vest in 2022.

After the drought of the pre­vi­ous year, the worst I’d ever seen, last year we had a record har­vest of 140,000 tons of olives,” Michael Southan, chief exec­u­tive direc­tor at the Australian Olive Association (AOA), told Olive Oil Times. We do not expect to repli­cate that in the incom­ing sea­son, but we are off for a good har­vest indeed.”

Growers are learn­ing how to man­age their orchards bet­ter. In the past, many olive groves were not as pro­duc­tive as they could have been, and that is chang­ing.- Michael Southan, chief exec­u­tive direc­tor, Australian Olive Association

The cli­mate has always been the biggest chal­lenge for the coun­try’s olive farms, espe­cially in recent years, as the dev­as­tat­ing floods in New South Wales in 2021 fol­lowed an excep­tional drought that already had affected most agri­cul­tural pro­duc­ers in Australia.

The chal­lenge is the weath­er’s extra­or­di­nary vari­abil­ity, as every year grow­ers have to face oppo­site sce­nar­ios and need to adapt to extremes,” Southan said. In the last cou­ple of years, we have been lucky as we had good rain­fall in many areas, and the weather has been sub­stan­tially good for olive growth.”

See Also:Farmers in New Zealand Optimistic Ahead of Harvest

In terms of vol­umes, the pro­duc­ing capac­ity shown by the sec­tor in the last decades has been steadily grow­ing.

It has gone up for the last 20 years,” Southan said. We can say the indus­try is 30 years old, so we went from prac­ti­cally zero 30 years ago to the last year’s record, with over 23 mil­lion liters pro­duced, mostly extra vir­gin olive oil.”

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AOA data from the last 10 har­vests show olive pro­duc­tion increas­ing from 14,500 tons in 2010/11 to almost 20,000 tons in 2014/15 and up to more than 22,000 tons in the last crop year. Even con­sid­er­ing the alter­nate bear­ing nature of the olive tree, the aver­age har­vest has fol­lowed a sig­nif­i­cant pos­i­tive trend in this period.

According to Australian farm­ers, most of the growth is due to a bet­ter under­stand­ing of the olive tree char­ac­ter­is­tics, learn­ing more effi­cient prun­ing tech­niques and bet­ter soil and land man­age­ment pro­to­cols. All of this allowed for bet­ter yields and more effi­cient pro­tec­tion of trees’ health.

Most now know how rel­e­vant it is to apply good farm­ing and sus­tain­able tech­niques,” Southan said. Think of prac­tices like chip­ping prun­ing remains and nur­tur­ing the soil with the result­ing com­post; it enriches the soil of olive groves and is also a car­bon farm­ing tech­nique. Olives are car­bon pos­i­tive.”

Over time, Australian olive grow­ers have also learned which vari­eties do best in each of the coun­try’s unique olive-grow­ing regions.

Growers are learn­ing how to man­age their orchards bet­ter. In the past, many olive groves were not as pro­duc­tive as they could have been, and that is chang­ing,” Southan said. They real­ized which cul­ti­vars per­form bet­ter in their envi­ron­ment, so they started plant­ing new vari­eties and pulling those that did not work for them.”

By par­tic­i­pat­ing in olive oil com­pe­ti­tions and gath­er­ing together to dis­cuss chal­lenges and oppor­tu­ni­ties, olive grow­ers are increas­ingly find­ing new ways to improve their orchards,” he added.

Another fac­tor that bodes well for the cur­rent har­vest is the abun­dance of work­ers avail­able. Labor short­ages have his­tor­i­cally affected the indus­try, espe­cially dur­ing Australia’s Covid-19-induced lock­downs.

Labor has often been dif­fi­cult to obtain in Australia, but I would expect it to be bet­ter this year for the olive indus­try,” Southan said.

Local author­i­ties in sev­eral states also have sup­ported the devel­op­ment of new tech­niques and the deploy­ment of new pro­ce­dures.

For exam­ple, a research project backed by the Australian gov­ern­ment in New South Wales is using remote sens­ing tech­nol­ogy to assess plant health and also pre­dict olive yields, giv­ing grow­ers spa­tial infor­ma­tion to iden­tify areas of low and high pro­duc­tion and poten­tial dri­vers of these yield vari­a­tions.”

With the help of researchers from pri­vate and pub­lic insti­tu­tions, irri­ga­tion deficit treat­ments also are being inves­ti­gated and imple­mented. Plant sen­sors already have been installed to under­stand the rela­tion­ship between irri­ga­tion meth­ods and fruit yields.

Agricultural his­to­ri­ans believe olive trees were first brought to Australia in 1800, 12 years after the first for­eign set­tle­ment on the island.

John Macarthur, a pio­neer of the local wool indus­try, is believed to have planted olive trees in the early 19th cen­tury. One of them is still thriv­ing at the Elizabeth Farm in New South Wales, Macarthur’s for­mer home.

In a study on olive tree his­tory in the coun­try pub­lished a few years ago, the researcher Rodney J. Mailer said European immi­grants estab­lished some lim­ited olive pro­duc­tion in South Australia and Victoria.

Commercial olive farm­ing began to take shape in 1890 when the New South Wales’ agri­cul­ture depart­ment started devel­op­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties for olive farm­ing.

In 1894, the exper­i­men­tal Wagga Wagga farm bap­tized an olive grove com­pris­ing all cul­ti­vars avail­able in the region. By the end of the cen­tury, more than 60 cul­ti­vars had been gath­ered and planted in Wagga Wagga, which remains an impor­tant analy­sis and organolep­tic lab­o­ra­tory.

According to Juan Vilar Strategic Consultants, most imported olive vari­eties came from Europe. However, the Lapierre olive tree, a South African vari­ety, is believed to have arrived in Australia in the 18th cen­tury.

This is pos­si­bly due to the waste dump­ing from a ship docked off the island, which had olive pits among the other dumped waste prod­ucts,” the con­sul­tancy wrote. The pits man­aged to take root and mul­ti­ply on the island due to birds that dis­persed them through­out.”

Australia’s mod­ern olive-pro­duc­ing sec­tor did not take shape until 1995, when the Australian Olive Association was formed. Today, olives are planted across Australia, with many vari­eties thriv­ing from south Western Australia to Queensland in the north­east.

While almost 70 per­cent of Australian extra vir­gin olive oil pro­duc­tion comes from the 2.5 mil­lion trees of Boundary Bend, hun­dreds of small and medium farm­ers have also spe­cial­ized in olive grow­ing and con­tribute with qual­ity niche prod­ucts.

You can find those focus­ing on bring­ing to the mar­ket robust extra vir­gin olive oils with high polyphe­nols and antiox­i­dants pro­file, but you can also see those spe­cial­iz­ing in pro­duc­ing milder extra vir­gin olive oils,” Southan said.

Along with pro­duc­tion, Australian olive oil con­sump­tion has also grown as con­sumers become more edu­cated about olive oil and develop an appetite for it.

According to International Olive Council data, Australians are expected to con­sume 50,000 tons of olive oil in the 2021/22 crop year, tied for the sec­ond-high­est total since IOC records began.



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