Jim Kamas, assistant professor and extension specialist at Texas AgriLife Extension, released an opinion statement rejecting the likelihood of Texas becoming a commercial manufacturer for olive oil, citing such challenges as the crop’s cold sensitivity, an unsuitable climate, and olive trees’ susceptibility to soil-borne pathogens. Yet despite such acknowledged hardships, Texas farmers are pushing back against the odds.
The Lone Star State brought home three awards at this year’s New York International Olive Oil Competition with the Texas Olive Oil Company & Bella Vista Ranch, and Texas Hill Country Olive Company (the only organic olive farm in the state) the big winners.
See more: Texas’s Olive Oil Boom (Wall Street Journal)
The Texas Olive Oil Council has been integral to the success of the industry; “we finally figured out where to put the trees. The secret to good production is to have a temperature during the blooming process and fruit set that is not too volatile,” says Jim Henry, co-founder of the TOOC.
Last year it was estimated Texas had around 50 growers. One of the newest to join the expanding number of olive tree growers is Curtis Mickan and his grandson Josh Swafford. Mickan told AgriLife Today he wanted to grow something that would both contribute to long-term society and continue a family legacy. The pair decided to open an olive ranch after learning the U.S. was the third-largest consumer of olive oil.
Texas has seen a widespread appeal for production of local foods. And thanks to the Texas Olive Oil Council, the trade is becoming more accessible to local farmers. Since May of this year, the Texas Olive Oil Council has sponsored two educational training sessions, both presented by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. The first focused on Olive Orchard Management offering analyses of soil and site preparation, irrigation and nutrition, varieties, disease control, and weed management, while the latest seminar, held this past August, discussed properties of growing and milling olives.
Horticulturist Larry Stein said AgriLife Extension will be increasing planting trials and research to further develop the best growing practices for prospective farmers. “We’ve got a lot of questions and we have a lot of interest and energy, so we expect to learn a lot in the next couple of years.”