Wildfires Unlikely to Impact 2019 Production Figures in California

Olive growers have largely been spared the fate of wine producers, who are likely to suffer setbacks from the Kincade fire that raged through Sonoma county late last year.

Jan. 27, 2020
By Zach Lisabeth

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The 2019 wild­fire sea­son has come to an end in Cal­i­for­nia. In spite of being the small­est fire sea­son since 2011 – in terms of acres destroyed – sev­eral blazes burned through­out the state’s olive-grow­ing regions.

While wild­fires destroyed crop­land and res­i­den­tial prop­er­ties in Kern, Mon­ter­rey, Los Ange­les, River­side, San Luis Obispo, Santa Bar­bara, Sonoma, Sut­ter, Tehama, Ven­tura and Yolo coun­ties – all of which are olive pro­duc­ing regions – few farm­ers reported dam­age to their crops.

Nei­ther we nor our grower part­ners in the state have had any of our orchards affected by the fires last fall.- Michael Fox, CEO of Cal­i­for­nia Olive Ranch

The Cal­i­for­nia Olive Oil Coun­cil (COOC) had pre­vi­ously esti­mated that the 2019 har­vest in Cal­i­for­nia would yield about 13,800 tons. While some in the sec­tor believe this fig­ure was a bit too opti­mistic, over­all olive oil pro­duc­tion is not expected to be impacted by the wild­fires.

I have heard that the peri­odic power shut­downs by the power com­pa­nies in wild­fire-prone areas dur­ing peri­ods of high wind did affect at least one proces­sor, and this may have impacted their oper­a­tion for a lim­ited period,” Dan Flynn, the exec­u­tive direc­tor of the UC Davis Olive Cen­ter, told Olive Oil Times.

See more: 2019 Har­vest News

I have not heard that the wild­fires have been a major fac­tor on olive oil qual­ity and quan­tity, but I also have not had com­pre­hen­sive dis­cus­sions with grow­ers about this,” he added.


Patri­cia King, the new exec­u­tive direc­tor of the COOC, told Olive Oil Times that it was still too early to tell what the final har­vest would be and did not com­ment on whether wild­fires would have an impact.

We will not know the final pro­duc­tion until approx­i­mately late May, as we are cur­rently in the process of cer­ti­fy­ing the oils,” she said.

Olive grow­ers have largely been spared the fate of wine pro­duc­ers, who are likely to suf­fer much larger set­backs in light of the Kin­cade fire that raged through Sonoma county.

Olives sur­vived the vir­u­lent fire sea­son thanks to their wider win­dow for har­vest. Unlike wine grapes, which require har­vest­ing dur­ing very spe­cific win­dows, often as short as a sin­gle night, olives that will be pressed for oil can be viably har­vested over sev­eral weeks or months.

Both grapes and olives are del­i­cate fruits and are extremely sen­si­tive to smoke dam­age, rel­a­tive to heartier crops grown in the region such as almonds and gar­lic. The threat comes from volatile com­pounds called phe­nols found in wood smoke.

Any sig­nif­i­cant expo­sure dur­ing the life-cycle of the crop results in a con­di­tion called smoke taint. Smoke tainted fruits take on a char­ac­ter­is­tic burnt, ashy or med­i­c­i­nal fla­vor that can show up in wines or oils pressed from the exposed har­vest, accord­ing to the Aus­tralian Wine Research Insti­tute.

Dur­ing inclement weather, wind can carry these dam­ag­ing phe­nols hun­dreds of miles from an active fire, threat­en­ing crops across a much wider and more exposed area.

Many Cal­i­for­nia olive grow­ers sim­ply har­vested their olive crop before nearby fires threat­ened their liveli­hood with smoke dam­age. In a recent sur­vey admin­is­tered by Olive Oil Times, only two pro­duc­ers from the United States said that wild­fires had impacted their pro­duc­tion.

We had a very strong har­vest this sea­son. We have pro­duced some of the high­est qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oil in our 20-year his­tory,” Michael Fox, the CEO of Cal­i­for­nia Olive Ranch, told Olive Oil Times. Nei­ther we nor our grower part­ners in the state have had any of our orchards affected by the fires last fall.”

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