`California Survey Confirms Olive Oil Boom

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California Survey Confirms Olive Oil Boom

Nov. 23, 2010
Lori Zanteson

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By Lori Zan­te­son
Olive Oil Times Con­trib­u­tor | Report­ing from Los Ange­les

The olive oil indus­try in Cal­i­for­nia con­tin­ues to expand through invest­ment and inno­va­tion and, as the Amer­i­can appetite for olive oil soars, the state is in a posi­tion to meet the grow­ing demand, accord­ing to the Cal­i­for­nia Olive Oil Coun­cil (COOC) report, 2010 Cal­i­for­nia Olive Oil Indus­try Sur­vey Sta­tis­tics.

Our goal is to edu­cate peo­ple about why extra vir­gin olive oil is so impor­tant- Patri­cia Dar­ragh, COOC

The report takes a look at the expan­sion in California’s extra vir­gin olive oil indus­try since the last report in 2004 and pro­vides a por­trait of an indus­try enjoy­ing growth at a time when many indus­tries are scal­ing back..

Olive oil pro­duc­tion is up about 30 per­cent this year and is expected to exceed one mil­lion gal­lons by early next year, an amount that sur­passes France. Patty Dar­ragh, long time direc­tor of the COOC, is very pleased by the pos­i­tive changes in the Cal­i­for­nia olive oil indus­try since the incep­tion of the indus­try group 18 years ago. We have grown very dra­mat­i­cally since 1992,” says Dar­ragh. What’s really excit­ing is we esti­mated we’d pro­duce 1.1 mil­lion gal­lons, but it gave peo­ple the oppor­tu­nity to do a com­par­i­son to a coun­try very well known as a pro­ducer, which is thrilling.”

Darragh

The report says the total acreage of olive orchards planted for olive oil pro­duc­tion includ­ing those planted for table pro­duc­tion is likely higher than 32,000 acres and could be as high as 41,000 acres.” Cal­i­for­nia farm­ers are plant­ing 8,000 acres of trees each year, many at super high-den­sity (SHD) of 500 to 900 trees per acre that are expected to reach matu­rity at 4 years. The report esti­mates an aver­age yield of 40 gal­lons per SHD acre.

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The 650,000 gal­lons of oil pro­duced in 2008 increased to 870,000 gal­lons the very next year. All signs indi­cate this growth will con­tinue in the com­ing years. Not only are more olives being planted and com­ing into har­vest, but the num­ber of mills is increas­ing, as well as the rate at which they process the olives. Large grow­ers aren’t the only par­tic­i­pants, either. Small farms and mills, as well as other busi­nesses such as winer­ies, are adding olive plant­i­ngs and pro­cess­ing facil­i­ties.

None of this would be hap­pen­ing with­out strong con­sumer demand. Accord­ing to the report, annual US con­sump­tion of olive oil has increased from 30 mil­lion gal­lons a year to almost 70 mil­lion in the last two decades. Though Cal­i­for­nia pro­duces almost all of the domes­tic extra vir­gin olive oil con­sumed in the coun­try, the US imports almost 99 per­cent of the olive oil it con­sumes. The find­ings in this report indi­cate the poten­tial for Cal­i­for­nia to increase pro­duc­tion to meet all of the US olive oil demand.”

That demand is fed in large part by con­sumer edu­ca­tion, a trend referred to in the report. Says Dar­ragh, Our goal is to edu­cate peo­ple about why extra vir­gin olive oil is so impor­tant. It’s a healthy fat that’s good for our bod­ies, that every­one needs in their body.” As a result of the efforts by the COOC, the UC Davis Olive Cen­ter, and so many grow­ers, pro­duc­ers and retail­ers, the infor­ma­tion is flow­ing and con­sumers are learn­ing about olive oil. Tast­ing rooms are open­ing at a rate of one per month. Dar­ragh sums up this grow­ing suc­cess, We want to cap­ture a larger seg­ment of the pie and extra vir­gin olive oil is a great choice to make.”

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