`California's 462,000-Acre 'Field of Dreams' - Olive Oil Times

California's 462,000-Acre 'Field of Dreams'

By Curtis Cord
Nov. 7, 2012 14:28 UTC

In a few weeks, a pub­lic hear­ing will be held in Washington by the United States International Trade Commission on the com­pe­ti­tion con­di­tions” between American olive oil pro­duc­ers and major for­eign sup­pli­ers. The inves­ti­ga­tion was launched at the request of House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp.

Waiting in the wings is a pro­posed fed­eral mar­ket­ing order drafted by California pro­duc­ers hop­ing to place new hur­dles for imported olive oils while clear­ing an eas­ier path for their own. Both sides are lawyer­ing up for what should be an intense fight.

Domestic olive oil pro­duc­ers cur­rently sup­ply less than 2 ½ per­cent of what Americans con­sume — nearly 98 per­cent is imported — and it has been widely reported, includ­ing in these pages, that American pro­duc­ers could some day sup­ply 5 per­cent. But would there be such a vicious fight over just another 2 ½ per­cent (a mere 8,000 tons)?

It turns out the answer is no. There’s a lot more at stake than the widely-reported 5 per­cent and both sides know it.

According to a California olive oil indus­try source, local indus­try play­ers have set their sights on pro­vid­ing much more than 5 per­cent of domes­tic needs. In fact, they don’t deem it entirely impos­si­ble that all of the olive oil Americans need could even­tu­ally be sup­plied by U.S. pro­duc­ers.

In round num­bers, Americans will con­sume 280,000 tons of olive oil this year, or 74 mil­lion gal­lons, mak­ing it the world’s largest mar­ket out­side of Europe. A mod­ern high-den­sity farm can pro­duce 160 gal­lons per acre, so you would need approx­i­mately 462,000 acres to make that much olive oil.

Sounds like a lot? Well it is, and it isn’t. Consider this: There are more than 800,000 acres devoted to almonds alone in California. And the Spanish olive oil pro­ducer Hojiblanca esti­mates that its hold­ings will soon reach 1.2 mil­lion acres.

Suddenly 462,000 acres seems within reach, espe­cially if you throw in a few tracts from Georgia, Arizona and Texas. In fact, it looks some­thing like this:

So it is no won­der European pro­duc­ers are up in arms, demand­ing action at the high­est lev­els over what they see as American efforts to con­struct trade bar­ri­ers. Americans say they are only seek­ing to level the play­ing field.” What some indus­try play­ers might really be after, though, is more like a 462,000-acre field of dreams.”

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