Firmin Berta donated $200,000 to the Olive Center. His brother left an additional $550,000 for the organization in his estate

Two recent dona­tions have helped turn 2019 into a very good year for the University of California, Davis Olive Center.

“We’ve never been stronger,” Dan Flynn, the center’s exec­u­tive direc­tor, told Olive Oil Times.

The Olive Center has received $750,000 from Fermin and Irvin Berta, a pair of broth­ers. Fermin Berta grad­u­ated from UC Davis in 1957 and told Flynn that he wanted to give back to the uni­ver­sity that gave him so much.

The United States has never been in a posi­tion to be able to pro­duce research on olive oil at this level ever in its his­tory.- Dan Flynn, exec­u­tive direc­tor of the Olive Center

“Firmin has donated $200,000 to us and his brother Irvin, who died in 2017, pro­vided the Olive Center with $550,000,” Flynn said.

“Their sup­port has allowed us to upgrade our research lab­o­ra­tory, recruit top grad­u­ate stu­dents, expand research orchards and upgrade olive oil stor­age capac­ity,” he added. “We recently received uni­ver­sity approval to name our research lab­o­ra­tory for Firmin and Irvin Berta.”

The Olive Center is cur­rently in the process of plant­ing five acres of super high-den­sity (SHD) olive groves that will be used to con­duct research as well as pro­duce olive oil, which is sold on the uni­ver­sity cam­pus and helps to fund the cen­ter.

See more: Olive Center News

While Arbequina, Arbosana and Koroneiki (the three most com­mon SHD vari­eties) have been planted, some other exper­i­men­tal hybrids are also being cul­ti­vated. One of these is the Chiquitita, which is a cross between Arbequina and Picual.

“Then there are two other vari­eties that are also crosses that we are going to be col­lect­ing data on as the orchard matures,” Flynn said.

Researchers at the cen­ter will soon be study­ing the “archi­tec­ture of the tree,” or which parts of the tree are the most pro­duc­tive in terms of out­put as well as phe­no­lic con­tent.

Funds from the dona­tions have also been used to main­tain the exist­ing orchards and help the Olive Center improve the qual­ity of the olive oil that it is cur­rently pro­duc­ing. Efforts such as these have been par­tially attrib­uted to the Olive Center’s two Gold awards at this year’s edi­tion of the NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition.

“It’s the first time that we’ve sub­mit­ted oils to the NYIOOC,” Flynn said. “In fact, this year we sub­mit­ted to a com­pe­ti­tion for the first time any­where.”

“We were able to buy smaller stain­less steel tanks, in which we were able to keep smaller batches and this gave us more pre­ci­sion in our blend­ing,” he added. “[Berta] was also able to help us fund some prun­ing, which helped us to main­tain the qual­ity of the fruit and get more fruit off the tree.”

The Olive Center has also used some of the money to pur­chase new equip­ment for its lab­o­ra­tory and is pro­vid­ing more money for grad­u­ate fel­low­ships, which Flynn said has helped the cen­ter to do more research.

“We’re at the point where Selina [Wang, the center’s research direc­tor] is co-author­ing a paper that is get­ting pub­lished once a month on aver­age, so the clip of research pro­duc­tiv­ity has increased,” Flynn said.

“These papers usu­ally start quite some­time before they are pub­lished so that is an indi­ca­tor that for the last few years, we’ve been work­ing at a very high level of effi­ciency, even though we are a self-sup­ported cen­ter, to pro­duce a lot of out­put,” he added. “The United States has never been in a posi­tion to be able to pro­duce research on olive oil at this level ever in its his­tory.”

Among the numer­ous pieces of research that UC Davis is under­tak­ing, is look­ing at the mul­ti­ple vari­ables involved in pro­cess­ing olives into olive oil and try­ing to opti­mize cer­tain inputs in order to get the max­i­mum pos­si­ble out­put.

The research is being con­ducted by Juan Polari, a Fulbright Scholar from Argentina who is receiv­ing his PhD from UC Davis. Funding from the Bertas’ dona­tion made recruit­ing high-cal­iber intel­lec­tu­als, such as Polari, pos­si­ble.

“In a lot of the research in this area, they might look at one vari­able, say the crusher or the malaxer, but what Juan’s research is doing is look­ing at mul­ti­ple vari­ables and how they inter­act with one another,” Flynn said.

“So, for exam­ple, look­ing at the crusher speed with the grid size in the crusher, along with malax­a­tion time and tem­per­a­ture,” he added. “When you start com­bin­ing these crit­i­cal aspects of the process, you are able to get deeper insights into what can be done to increase phe­no­lic con­tent and get a bet­ter yield.”

It is this kind of research that Flynn believes will help to improve the American olive sec­tor. New research find­ings will also be part of the cur­ricu­lum for the Olive Center’s annual mas­ter miller course, which is tak­ing place from September 23 to 25 at the Robert Mondavi Institute.

As it always does, the course will also cover the inter­na­tional olive oil indus­try, olive oil chem­istry and har­vest­ing and milling best prac­tices.

Registration is open until September 20 and the price of the event is $875 from now until August 9, when it increases to $1,075.

“We have the great­est milling course on the planet,” Flynn said. “What makes this course unique is that it is grounded in sci­ence, as well as hands-on pro­duc­tion at a real olive oil pro­cess­ing plant.”

A sur­vey of atten­dees admin­is­tered by the Olive Center found that 90 per­cent of respon­dents believed that the course mate­r­ial helped improve their qual­ity and effi­ciency. Another 72 per­cent of respon­dents said that because of the course they were “highly likely” to increase their prof­itabil­ity.

Leandro Ravetti, an agri­cul­tural engi­neer and tech­ni­cal direc­tor at Modern Olives, Flynn and Wang will instruct the course, which has had hun­dreds of atten­dees over the years.

“I think it is that com­bi­na­tion of sci­en­tific ground­ing as well as prac­ti­cal appli­ca­tion and acces­si­ble lan­guage that the course is pre­sented in that make it the best in the world,” Flynn said.

By the end of the course, Flynn and the Olive Center will be look­ing ahead to the next har­vest in late October and early November, with the goal of con­tin­u­ing the Olive Center’s win­ning streak.


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