Imports currently account for more than 95 percent of U.S. olive oil consumption, but as consumers become more educated about domestic options, American producers are gearing up to take the baton.
The U.S. olive oil market has been growing at an annual rate of approximately 8 percent over the past decade. Nathanael Johnson from Grist reports that approximately 35,000 acres of olive trees occupy the Golden State, and the California Olive Council expects 3,500 new acres to be planted each year until 2020.
This season’s drought has ushered fears of underproduction and, while a recent report suggests a dip in productivity, this has been attributed to a harsh winter in 2013 and the fruit trees being “alternate-bearing.” While this is considered an “off year” for the crop where decreased production is anticipated, the overall market is on the rise.
Given the recent drought and predictions for more intense weather patterns in the future, many farmers are abandoning previously high-yield crops like rice and almonds for olives because of their heat-resistance.
The Fresno Bee recently reported, “In the Sacramento Valley, where water districts have been shrinking water allocations, the gritty olive tree, with its gnarly bark and thin, dusty-looking leaves, has become a go-to crop.” Olive farmer Dan Kennedy said, “We can produce (an olive) crop with 1 acre-foot of water per acre,” where crops such as almonds and rice demand at least twice as much water to produce.