` Olive Farming Seen as a Promising Alternative to Ailing Citrus Industry in Florida - Olive Oil Times

Olive Farming Seen as a Promising Alternative to Ailing Citrus Industry in Florida

Mar. 9, 2016
Sukhsatej Batra

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The cit­rus green­ing dis­ease, or Huanglongbing, has seri­ously affected the $10.7 bil­lion Florida cit­rus indus­try, caus­ing approx­i­mately $7.8 bil­lion in lost rev­enue, 162,200 cit­rus acres and 7,513 jobs since 2007,” accord­ing to researchers from the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida.

As cit­rus green­ing shows no sign of abat­ing, Florida farm­ers ven­ture into grow­ing olives on fields that have only known cit­rus trees.

In their new under­tak­ing to replace their cit­rus orchards with olive groves, Florida farm­ers are glad to have the sup­port of sci­en­tists from the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences at the University of Florida.

A new oppor­tu­nity to rein­vent our­selves after cat­a­strophic losses to cit­rus green­ing.- Florida farmer Richard Williams

The researchers will study dif­fer­ent aspects of grow­ing olives in the state, accord­ing to IFAS News. Jennifer Gillett-Kaufman, an ento­mol­o­gist and lead inves­ti­ga­tor of the study on via­bil­ity of olive pro­duc­tion in Florida, will inves­ti­gate dis­eases caused by pests in olives, while Mack Thetford, of the West Florida REC in Jay, Florida, will study the hor­ti­cul­tural aspect of grow­ing olives.

Although the olive is still a new crop for Florida, the Florida Olive Council was formed 10 years ago to pro­mote olive crops. Now it has a big hand in help­ing launch olive farm­ing in the Sunshine State. 

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The coun­cil planted dif­fer­ent vari­eties of olives at five Research and Education Centers of the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, which will be stud­ied by the scientists.

Additionally, the team of researchers from the Institute will col­lab­o­rate with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and researchers from Texas and Georgia to bet­ter under­stand olive cul­ti­va­tion processes.

To edu­cate farm­ers about olive farm­ing, olive cul­ture, cul­ti­var selec­tion and mar­ket­ing, the team invited olive experts Louise Ferguson and Paul Vossen from the University of California, Davis, to present at a sem­i­nar and work­shop back in 2012 on the poten­tial of grow­ing olives in Florida.

Some cit­rus farm­ers have already started grow­ing olive trees on their farms. In 2012, Richard Williams ven­tured into olive farm­ing and planted 11,160 olive trees on his 20-acre farm, Florida Olive Systems, Inc. Apart from the three vari­eties of olives — Arbequina, Arbosana, and Koroneiki — he planted 16 other vari­eties of olive trees in con­tain­ers for observation.

Florida Olive Farms is another olive farm started in 2012 by broth­ers Jonathan and Stephen Carter. It has 20,000 olive trees, mainly of the Arbequina vari­ety, planted over 33 acres of land that are expected to pro­duce their first har­vest this year.

While there are sev­eral new high-den­sity olive groves tak­ing root in Florida, Don Mueller stands out as a suc­cess­ful olive farmer who has been sell­ing Florida olives and olive oil for more than 10 years, accord­ing to the Florida Olive Council.

Florida cur­rently has 300 acres of olive trees man­aged by about 50 grow­ers, accord­ing to Council pres­i­dent, Michael O’Hara Garcia, and con­fi­dence in grow­ing olives in Florida is grow­ing due to the sup­port and inter­est taken by researchers from the University of Florida and elsewhere.

While olive grow­ing is not for the faint-hearted, said Richard Williams, one of the pio­neer olive farm­ers in Florida, it’s a new oppor­tu­nity to rein­vent our­selves after cat­a­strophic losses to cit­rus greening.”


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