The Musco Family Olive Company has announced that it will not be signing any more contracts with olive growers for the 2019/20 crop year.
The California olive packing company originally stepped in to pick up the contracts of olive growers whose previous ones with Bell-Carter were canceled back in March.
All of the new contracts are long-term and a minimum of 10 years in length.
“Last week we reached our volume target, and, at this time, we will not be offering additional contracts for this crop year,” Dennis Burreson, the company’s vice president of field operations and industry affairs, said in a press release.
A spokesman for Musco did not say how many contracts had been offered to growers. “We do not share contract numbers,” John Segale told Olive Oil Times.
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It remains unknown how many olive growers’ contracts were originally canceled by Bell-Carter, which cited the need to compete in a global marketplace and the increasing cost of production for California olives as two of the reasons why it had to cut loose “many” of its California suppliers.
In its efforts to sign former Bell-Carter suppliers, Musco gave preference to farmers with at least 10 acres of olive trees. The company initially sent out questionnaires to the affected farmers before following up with in-person visits to the farms.
Selected farmers were then offered long-term contracts by the company. “All of the new contracts are long-term and a minimum of 10 years in length,” Segale said.
In spite of all the contracts Musco did sign, a considerable number of farmers were left with nowhere to sell their olives. Many of these were smaller olive farmers who continue to harvest by hand as opposed to a machine.
Among them was Ud Shanker, a grower in California’s Central Valley, who was contacted by Musco, but in the end, received no contract.
“We didn’t receive any contract for Musco,” he told Olive Oil Times. “[It’s] very disappointing. We’re going to lose the crop and nobody cares.”
Shanker is indignant that the United States government has made $16 billion available to farmers who have been hurt by President Donald Trump’s trade war but seem unwilling to help small farmers such as himself.
“We growers are left to take all the losses with no government subsidies,“ he said. “I have contacted the California governor, local officials, and those in Washington D.C. All my emails were ignored.”
Shanker attributes the cancellation of his contract to DCoop’s purchase of a 20-percent stake in Bell-Carter last August. As part of the deal, Bell-Carter now sells more than 33,000 tons of table olives in the United States on behalf of the Spanish giant, its former competitor.
The move by DCoop and its Moroccan partner, Devica, was widely seen as an effort for the cooperative to avoid paying U.S. tariffs on Spanish table olives. This view was confirmed by Antonio Luque, the cooperative’s presidents.
Bell-Carter denied this characterization of the deal and also denied that the partial acquisition had anything to do with its cancellation of the contracts.
However, there may be some hope for growers such as Shanker. Musco also announced that it would be offering development contracts to growers who are interested in planting mechanically harvestable olive groves.
“Those meetings with the affected farmers and their families were an excellent opportunity for us to discuss and share thoughts on the future of the table olive industry,” Burreson said. “The time has come to invest in modern acreage to produce both the highest quality ripe olives and the most economical source which will enable our industry to regain the foodservice market lost over time.”