Production

After Years of Drought and Covid, Australians Celebrate Record-Breaking Harvest

Australian pro­duc­ers are cel­e­brat­ing a suc­cess­ful end to the 2021 olive har­vest.

Farmers worked around Covid-19 restric­tions, heavy rains, frost dam­age and labor short­ages at the start of the sea­son to ulti­mately achieve a bumper har­vest.

In many ways, 2021 has been our best har­vest ever. The company’s own groves broke their pre­vi­ous pro­duc­tive record by more than two mil­lion liters of oil.- Leandro Ravetti, co-CEO, Boundary Bend

The Australian olive indus­try is cel­e­brat­ing a record crop this year,” said Michael Southan, the CEO of the Australian Olive Association (AOA). After low pro­duc­tion last year, grow­ers are hav­ing a record har­vest as olive grow­ing areas emerge from drought and expe­ri­ence more favor­able sea­sons.”

See Also: Despite Covid and Drought, Australian and New Zealand Producers Shine at NYIOOC

The esti­mated yield of olive oil for 2021 is 20,000 to 21,000 tons, which is 23 to 24 mil­lion liters of olive oil,” Southan told Olive Oil Times. The indus­try has flour­ished in Australia with the entry of some very smart oper­a­tors who have taken olive pro­duc­tion to new lev­els.”

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According to International Olive Council data, Australia pre­vi­ously pro­duced about 21,000 tons dur­ing the 2017 and 2018 olive har­vests.

Southan said that to ensure there is enough local extra vir­gin olive oil avail­able through­out the year, the indus­try is focused on tar­geted grove man­age­ment prac­tices to cir­cum­vent vari­a­tions in pro­duc­tion due to the nat­ural alter­nate bear­ing cycle of the olive tree and mit­i­gate the effects of drought.

The good news is that the record 2021 har­vest means con­sumers will be spoiled for choice when it comes to select­ing extra vir­gin olive oil and they won’t have to look past our fresh, high-qual­ity Australian prod­ucts,” he said.

Southan added that the recent labor short­ages that cropped up dur­ing the early har­vest did not end up pos­ing a sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenge for grow­ers.

The vast major­ity of olives in Australia are har­vested mechan­i­cally,” he said. For small pro­duc­ers that use labor, they were gen­er­ally able to track down labor locally, so this was not a sig­nif­i­cant issue.”

The Australian Olive Oil Association (AOOA) esti­mated the yield of the 2021 har­vest to be a record-break­ing” 20 to 22 mil­lion liters of olive oil. The slight dis­crep­ancy between the AOA and AOOA esti­mates is due to no offi­cial track­ing mea­sure­ment meth­ods being in place.

Boundary Bend

Good win­ter rains last year broke the drought and con­tributed sig­nif­i­cantly to the har­vest, deep­en­ing the expec­ta­tions of being an on-year for most states – except for some grow­ing regions such as in Western Australia – within the nor­mal bien­nial cycle of olive trees,” said David Valmorbida, the pres­i­dent of the Australian Olive Oil Association (AOOA).

This val­ues the Australian crop in the range of AUD 120 mil­lion to AUD 140 mil­lion (€75 mil­lion to €87 mil­lion), which is the whole­sale value for the bulk farm gate prod­uct, with grow­ers receiv­ing attrac­tive returns that sup­port the busi­ness case for con­tin­ued expan­sion of the local indus­try,” he added.

Valmorbida said the record har­vest was an excel­lent out­come for the local indus­try in the face of try­ing con­di­tions dur­ing the last 12 months.”

He said some grow­ers were faced with frost dam­age, while oth­ers were con­fronted with dry fruit and low yields at the start of the har­vest. Others encoun­tered swollen fruit due to heavy rain­fall.

Amanda Bailey, an AOOA com­mit­tee mem­ber, agreed that after the bush­fires and com­plex­i­ties of 2020” this year’s har­vest sea­son came with a new set of chal­lenges.

As well as weather extremes, the indus­try was also impacted by ship­ping delays in the Suez Canal, which held up pro­cess­ing machin­ery, equip­ment and stor­age tanks,” Bailey said. Plus, lock­down and travel restric­tions because of Covid-19 led to a labor short­age at har­vest time, mean­ing there were tons of fruit left to spoil on trees.”

Karen Godfrey, the mar­ket­ing man­ager for Taralinga Estate on Australia’s Mornington Peninsula, south of Melbourne, told Olive Oil Times their 2021 har­vest results are back to where we were pre-Covid-19, which is great.”

Godfrey said Taralinga was not affected by the recent labor short­ages that cropped up as grow­ers started har­vest­ing.

Taralinga Estate typ­i­cally employs local resources, so for­tu­nately we are not being impacted by the cur­rent short­age of inter­na­tional labor like many agri­cul­ture pro­duc­ers are,” she said.

However, the ongo­ing Covid-19 restric­tions were a hin­drance.

Once again we had to enforce social dis­tanc­ing and have min­i­mal staff on-site due to Covid-19, but the biggest impact was the inabil­ity to have our Pieralisi tech­ni­cian on-site because of inter­na­tional travel restric­tions,” Godfrey said.

On the upside, it forced us to become self-suf­fi­cient with ser­vic­ing our equip­ment and trou­ble-shoot­ing any issues that may ever arise,” she added.

In addi­tion to Covid-19 restric­tions, the team at Taralinga dealt with weather chal­lenges as the har­vest was draw­ing to a close.

We had a lot of rain the last week of har­vest, which made the con­di­tions quite dif­fi­cult as the ground was very soft,” Godfrey said.

We’re incred­i­bly proud of and grate­ful for our grove team who, once again, put in an extra­or­di­nary effort for har­vest work­ing long days under tough con­di­tions,” she con­cluded. Without them, we wouldn’t have our inter­na­tional gold-win­ning extra vir­gin olive oil.”

Another pro­ducer from the Mornington Peninsula, Sui Tham, who co-owns Cape Schanck Olive Estate with her hus­band, Stephen, told Olive Oil Times their har­vest was very suc­cess­ful as we were able to har­vest each vari­ety at the opti­mum fruit con­di­tion.”

Photo: Sui Tham

We started our har­vest two weeks later than usual, prob­a­bly due to the cooler sum­mer, and other than foxes chew­ing the irri­ga­tion pipes and kan­ga­roos lurk­ing out­side the olive grove, we had a pretty unevent­ful year,” she added.

The weather was wet lead­ing up to har­vest, but dur­ing har­vest, we were mostly greeted with sunny, calm days,” Tham con­tin­ued. Quality-wise, we are qui­etly con­fi­dent that it will live up to last year’s vin­tage. So far, all the lab­o­ra­tory tests are point­ing in the right direc­tion. There was a slight drop in the quan­tity that may reflect the heavy prun­ing that was under­taken after last year’s har­vest.”

She said that Cape Schanck Olive Estate was for­tu­nate that they had locals help­ing them dur­ing har­vest and they were not impacted by the labor short­ages.

She said they fol­lowed Covid-19 safety pre­cau­tions and their har­vest went unim­peded, but with­out the long line of vis­i­tors and helpers, and with­out the usual cel­e­bra­tion after the har­vest.”

Elsewhere in Victoria, Boundary Bend, Australia’s largest olive oil pro­ducer, also cel­e­brated a record har­vest.

Boundary Bend

In many ways, 2021 has been our best har­vest ever,” Leandro Ravetti, the company’s co-CEO and chief oil maker, told Olive Oil Times. The company’s own groves broke their pre­vi­ous pro­duc­tive record by more than two mil­lion liters of oil, with the more mature of those groves at Boundary Bend being arguably the most pro­duc­tive sin­gle olive grove in the world, after pro­duc­ing more than 11.5 mil­lion liters of olive oil in a sin­gle sea­son.”

After a dif­fi­cult year in 2020 across many fronts, the stars aligned for us in 2021,” he added. Weather con­di­tions were very good right from the begin­ning with a wet and cool 2020 win­ter, mod­er­ate and sta­ble tem­per­a­tures in sum­mer and gen­tle and mostly dry autumn con­di­tions dur­ing har­vest.”

We had great flow­er­ing and fruit set, lead­ing to a heavy but bal­anced crop that ended up pro­duc­ing not only record-break­ing yields but fan­tas­tic qual­ity oils too,” Ravetti con­tin­ued.

He said that even though labor short­ages were a chal­lenge, Boundary Bend has a very strong base of gray nomads” – older Australians who travel for extended peri­ods across the coun­try and at times work part-time to fund their trav­els – that return every year and are now part of our fam­ily.”

Ravetti added that Boundary Bend had also had a rea­son­able num­ber of back­pack­ers that remained in the coun­try and returned to work with them this year.

He said the team learned a lot from har­vest­ing with Covid-19 restric­tions last year where the sit­u­a­tion was a lot more com­pli­cated due to the lack of infor­ma­tion and knowl­edge.”

Fortunately, we didn’t have to go to the extremes that we went to last year, such as pro­vid­ing iso­lated accom­mo­da­tion or all meals,” he said. But we main­tained most of our other pro­to­cols, such as quar­an­tine and test­ing of staff prior to the start of har­vest, daily tem­per­a­ture check­ing, social dis­tanc­ing, full dis­in­fec­tion and san­i­ta­tion between shifts.”

As a result of all these mea­sures, Boundary Bend com­pleted the har­vest safely and with­out any cases.”


Reported by
Lisa Anderson