Rare sight of late:

a rain-soaked highway in Central California

Going from one extreme to the other, California farmers are welcoming what some are calling “biblical rain” that will bring relief from this year’s historic drought.

While this single storm, hashtagged #rainpocalypse and #stormageddon by the locals, will not end the drought completely, it will be a major step in the right direction for olive farmers in the Golden State, experts say.

Paul Vossen, farm advisor for the University of California Cooperative Extension said lack of rainfall over the last few years left many olive farms with low soil moisture that ultimately stressed the trees.

“Part of that stress influenced the crop load, which was lower than normal and it also advanced the ripening of the fruit,” said Vossen. “This autumn harvest was at least 2-3 weeks early and was finished by Thanksgiving.”

California’s prolonged drought will result in an estimated 25-percent drop in U.S. olive oil production for the 2013-2014 season, according to recent estimates. Sharply reduced output in Spain, Italy and Portugal will add to a dismal season for world olive oil production. But there’s always next year.
See more: Complete Coverage of the 2014 Olive Harvest
“The rainfall we are receiving right now is welcome for refilling the soil profiles, so that the olive trees can start off next spring with good growth,” Vossen said. “It is also a relief to see enough rain to start to see a replenishment of our reservoirs, so that irrigation water will once again be plentiful for next summer’s needs. Even though we may get some temporary flooding, all in all, this rainfall is a welcome thing.”

The rough weather, however, will also be met with some concern for the trees and production facilities throughout the state.

Vincent Ricchiuti, of the NYIOOC award-winning Enzo Olive Oil Company, was bracing for more than a lot of water: “There is no question that the impending storm will bring some much needed water to our region. However, depending on the magnitude of the winds that are predicted to hit, there could be some significant damage to our trees or structures.”

Dan Flynn, director of the University of California at Davis Olive Center, said his team harvested the campus olives yesterday to get what they could before the storm hit.

“The storm will partially replenish water supplies, but there needs to be much more rain over the next several months before the drought can be declared over,” said Flynn. “There is still a long way to go.”

Flynn said nearly all of the crop has been harvested in the state by now, although some harvesting will continue for smaller producers once the groves dry out. “One threat that the rain brings is olive knot, which can spread in wet conditions, particularly when just-harvested trees have leaf scars and bark damage that allow the pathogen to enter,” he warned.

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