Just weeks after Bell-Carter terminated many of its contracts with California olive growers, competitor and occasional collaborator, Musco Family Olive Company announced that it would pick up some of these contracts.
“We want every farmer impacted by this decision to know that Musco Family Olive Company is committed to the California ripe olive industry,” Felix Musco, the company’s CEO, said. “Our gates are open to purchase this year’s crop to meet our increased supply needs from any grower who commits to our modern growing and harvesting goals.”
I have spoken to Musco, and I'm on a list, which I'm grateful for, but there's nothing guaranteed... So, I have to wait and see.
Musco did not specify exactly how many contracts would be awarded, but said the company would do its best to take on as many additional ones as possible. The company also did not respond to a request for comment on this story.
“While preference will be given to those growers who commit to planting mechanically harvestable acreage, we will also offer a one-year contract to as many acres as we can to provide everyone with more time to consider this opportunity,” he said.
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Even with new contracts being awarded, growers estimate at least 31,000 tons of olives will go unharvested alone in Tulare County, which is home to many of the affected growers. Industry leaders estimate this will cost the county $40 million in lost revenue.
Tricia Stever Blattler, the Tulare County Farm Bureau executive director, told Visalia Times Delta that many farmers would be financially hurting this year and may have to let their orchards lie fallow in the coming harvest season.
“The impacts to our local economy will be felt by many, including the olive growers who have lost their processing contracts, and the 1,500 estimated farm workers who could find their annual income severely impacted by the loss of the harvest work that is traditionally done in September and October when olive picking occurs,” she said.
Musco Family Olive Company, along with Bell-Carter, filed an anti-dumping complaint against Spanish table olive producers with the United States International Trade Commission in the summer of 2017. This, combined with a separate anti-subsidy charge from the U.S. Department of Commerce led to the imposition of tariffs on imported Spanish table olives of 37.4 percent.
DCoop, along with its Moroccan partner Devica, which combined are two of the largest table olive exporters to the U.S. responded to the tariffs by purchasing a 20 percent stake in Bell-Carter.
This move allowed the company to ship table olives to the U.S. before allowing them to oxidize. With this step of the process taking place in the U.S., DCoop is able sell its olives in the country tariff-free, according to the cooperative’s president, Antonio Luque. Bell-Carter has denied that this is the case.
As part of the agreement, Dcoop and Devica have also now become the near-exclusive suppliers of Bell-Carter’s table olives. However, Tim T. Carter, the CEO of Bell-Carter, said that in spite of this the company would continue to source some olives from California growers.
However, it remains unlikely that many of the olive growers impacted by Bell-Carter’s abrupt contract cancellations will be able to sell their olives on to Musco.
“I have spoken to Musco, and I’m on a list, which I’m grateful for, but there’s nothing guaranteed,” Ud Shanker, a California olive grower who had his contract with Bell-Carter terminated earlier this month, told Olive Oil Times.
“They prefer those who harvest using machines and I’m not one of them,” he added. “So, I have to wait and see.”