Australian Producers Face Mixed Fortunes

Growers have had a bountiful olive harvest overall, but their oil yield was lower than average.
Australian producers experienced another mixed harvest in 2023. (Photo: Oasis Olives)
By Lisa Anderson
Aug. 31, 2023 11:33 UTC

Producers across Australia report mixed results from the 2023 har­vest, with some grow­ers enjoy­ing an abun­dant har­vest while oth­ers did not har­vest at all.

Ahead of the har­vest, some pro­duc­ers and offi­cials were hope­ful that Australia would enjoy a bumper har­vest. However, cool weather and labor issues resulted in a lower yield than expected for some.

Quality was excel­lent this year, helped by large crops and slow ripen­ing. Ripening was slow this year; in line with this, the har­vest was later than usual. This made it eas­ier to keep ahead of any fun­gal issues.- John Symington, owner, Oasis Olives

The oil yield is def­i­nitely lower than aver­age because of the cooler grow­ing con­di­tions, but the qual­ity of oil remains high because the fruit ripened slowly,” said David Valmorbida, pres­i­dent of the Australian Olive Oil Association (AOOA).

While the Australian olive har­vest is not offi­cially tracked, the AOOA esti­mates a yield of 18 to 19 mil­lion liters of oil extracted from between 10,000 and 20,000 tons of fruit.

See Also:2023 Harvest Updates

This is up from last year’s esti­mated yield of between 14 and 15 mil­lion liters but nowhere near 2021’s bumper crop of 20 to 22 mil­lion liters.

Along with cool weather, Australia’s ongo­ing agri­cul­tural labor short­age also cre­ated prob­lems for some small-scale grow­ers.

There was a major prob­lem in some areas where con­tract har­vesters and con­tract proces­sors were just not avail­able or not offer­ing their ser­vices,” Michael Southan, the chief exec­u­tive of the Australian Olive Association, told Olive Oil Times.

This cre­ated prob­lems for many small grow­ers, some of whom did not har­vest as a result,” he added.

However, Southan described the over­all olive har­vest as good. The fruit yield was good this year, but the oil yield was lower than aver­age from the cool weather we had dur­ing fruit devel­op­ment in the east­ern states,” he said.

Meanwhile, John Symington, the owner of Victoria-based Oasis Olives, reported pos­i­tive har­vest results in both the qual­ity and quan­tity of his olives but a drop in oil yield.


The Victoria-based producer said quality was excellent, but the oil yield dropped. (Photo: Oasis Olives)

Quality was excel­lent this year, helped by large crops and slow ripen­ing,” he said. Ripening was slow this year; in line with this, the har­vest was later than usual. This made it eas­ier to keep ahead of any fun­gal issues.”

Our har­vest came in on tar­get and was up sig­nif­i­cantly on last year in good part due to new plant­i­ngs start­ing to con­tribute,” Symington added. Prices have not risen as much in Australia as in Europe, but we expect them to keep mov­ing up.”

Leading up to the har­vest ear­lier this year, Symington said he was con­cerned about fun­gal issues, but Oasis Olives worked around the poten­tial prob­lem.

We tack­led the pos­si­ble fun­gus issues by har­vest­ing the sus­cep­ti­ble vari­eties early, and this worked for us as we were able to get the fruit off and processed before the oil qual­ity was sig­nif­i­cantly degraded,” he said.

However, as a result of the change in the har­vest­ing pro­gram, our oil yields were lower than they would oth­er­wise have been, par­tic­u­larly in Picual,” Symington added.


Most of our pro­cess­ing cus­tomers made the same com­ments about the late­ness of the har­vest,” he con­tin­ued. Another issue was the heavy rain in June. By the end of the month, many groves, includ­ing ours, were find­ing it hard to get har­vesters around the grove with­out get­ting bogged.”

Another pro­ducer, Stephen Tham, the co-owner of Cape Schanck Olive Estate on the country’s Mornington Peninsula, said they started har­vest­ing two weeks later than usual because of the cold, cloudy days lead­ing to the har­vest.


Harvesting olives on the unique Mornignton Peninsula in southern Australia (Photo: Steohen Tham)

He said the pre­dicted threat of a dry and warmer El Niño win­ter did not tran­spire. Hot drinks and hearty meat pies kept us going,” Tham quipped.

There was no autumn weather tran­si­tion,” he told Olive Oil Times. Summer tem­per­a­tures dis­ap­peared and went straight to win­ter, with record tem­per­a­ture lows and rain­fall in May and June. Harvest time was wet with brief bursts of sun­shine.”


Tham said Cape Schank’s total har­vest ton­nage was three times last year’s. Of our five vari­eties, Leccino recorded the low­est ton­nage and Picholine the high­est,” he said. The fruit qual­ity was pleas­antly excel­lent all around.”

The oils were less robust than last year’s and prob­a­bly reflected the high rain­fall,” Tham added. Fortunately, the oils remained bal­anced and should please most palates.”

Also from Victoria, Cobram Estate, Australia’s largest olive oil pro­ducer for­merly known as Boundary Bend, reported a very good har­vest, despite the usual chal­lenges,” accord­ing to the company’s co-chief exec­u­tive and chief oil maker, Leandro Ravetti.


Biodiversity in the olive groves of Cobram Estate (Photo: Cobram Estate)

Olive oil qual­ity was excel­lent, with a his­tor­i­cally high per­cent­age of the oil pro­duced being clas­si­fied as pre­mium or ultra-pre­mium extra vir­gin olive oil,” he said.

We pro­duced 32 per­cent more oil than last year despite the unusu­ally cold and shorter grow­ing sea­son, deliv­er­ing lower-than-aver­age oil con­tent in the fruit com­bined with smaller-than-nor­mal fruit size,” Ravetti added.

Fortunately, weather con­di­tions dur­ing har­vest were much friend­lier than last year, with­out sig­nif­i­cant amounts of rain in the first six weeks,” he con­tin­ued. This drier period com­bined with good har­vesters’ reli­a­bil­ity and staff per­for­mance allowed us to wrap up pro­ce­dures well within the expected time­frame.”

Ravetti explained that the oper­a­tional suc­cess of their har­vest was due to a thor­ough prepa­ra­tion and staff selec­tion process and the con­struc­tion of their new mill at Boort, Victoria.

Cobram was recently included in the Australian Financial Review’s sus­tain­abil­ity lead­ers list for the sec­ond year run­ning.

Ravetti explained that Cobram embraced sus­tain­abil­ity dur­ing their lat­est har­vest, with less than 0.5 per­cent of their waste end­ing up in land­fill and remov­ing approx­i­mately four kilo­grams of car­bon diox­ide per liter of olive oil they pro­duced.


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