California Producers Keep Olives and Workers Safe in Record Heat

With temperatures breaking records in some parts of the state, producers emphasize the need for irrigation and unconventional working hours.
By Thomas Sechehaye
Aug. 10, 2023 15:59 UTC

Excessive heat warn­ings are dom­i­nat­ing the news in California. According to the San Luis Obispo Tribune, the heat wave hit the promi­nent olive-grow­ing county, with tem­per­a­tures reach­ing 110 ºF (43.3 ºC).

CBS News reported record-high tem­per­a­tures were in the triple dig­its for much of the Sacramento Valley and across Northern California. The nearly cen­tury-old (1935) record of 108 ºF (42.2 ºC) was topped in Sacramento, with a high of 109 ºF (42.8 ºC) on July 16.

(Harvest) results will always be influ­enced to some extent by cli­matic con­di­tions, but with proper man­age­ment, it is pos­si­ble to mit­i­gate poten­tial impacts on yields and qual­ity.- Leandro Ravetti, co-chief exec­u­tive, Cobram Estate Olives

Cooling cen­ters are open around the state to assist with pre­ven­tion and recov­ery from heat-related ill­nesses.

With groves through­out the Sacramento Valley, Jim Lipman, the chief oper­at­ing offi­cer of California Olive Ranch, the largest pro­ducer in the United States, told Olive Oil Times: We are not hav­ing an issue with the heat. We mon­i­tor our trees very closely and have been dili­gent in mak­ing sure the trees are prop­erly irri­gated.”

See Also:Sustainable Farming is Key to Quality as California Becomes Hotter and Drier

Our main pri­or­ity is to pro­tect the trees and their fruit to ensure they don’t undergo undue stress,” he added. The extreme heat at this time of the phe­no­log­i­cal cycle is not a major risk to the tree. At high tem­per­a­tures, the tree shuts down and stops push­ing growth to the olive, ulti­mately inhibit­ing the accu­mu­la­tion of fat and forc­ing the tree to abort its fruit.”

Meanwhile, in his groves in Madera, about 220 kilo­me­ters south of Sacramento, Vincent Ricchiuti, the founder of Enzo Olive Oil Company, reached a sim­i­lar con­clu­sion.

The olive trees and olives are hold­ing strong,” he told Olive Oil Times. We have invested in a lot of water tech­nol­ogy to help us bet­ter under­stand what our crop needs are in real-time. Our irri­ga­tion sched­ules def­i­nitely increased in the past few weeks to counter-bal­ance the heat wave.”

Back in the Sacramento Valley, Leandro Ravetti, the chief olive oil maker and co-chief exec­u­tive of Cobram Estate Olives, said olives are nat­u­rally resilient plants and fol­low­ing strate­gic mea­sures could mit­i­gate the impacts of high heart.

The olive tree is a very resilient and drought-tol­er­ant plant,” Ravetti told Olive Oil Times. It has mech­a­nisms to han­dle heat waves quite well in com­par­i­son with other hor­ti­cul­tural crops.”

Over the past 20 years, Cobram Estate Olives and its Olive.iQ grow­ing sys­tem have worked together to take appro­pri­ate strate­gic mea­sures to pre­pare for poten­tial effects of cli­mate change at a regional level of our groves,” he added.

Ravetti described exam­ples of strate­gic actions and prac­tices. Adoption of medium to high plant­ing den­si­ties leads to a higher degree and more con­sis­tent lev­els of pro­duc­tion,” he said. Use of a wide range of vari­eties enables us to max­i­mize cur­rent and future flex­i­bil­ity needed to incor­po­rate genet­ics bet­ter adapted to new cli­matic con­di­tions.”

Implementation of our Olive.iQ cli­matic analy­sis assists us in deter­min­ing opti­mal grow­ing areas and or iden­ti­fy­ing poten­tial envi­ron­men­tal risks to put in place mit­i­ga­tion prac­tices when pos­si­ble,” he added.

Strategic mea­sures, Ravetti said, include a vari­ety of actions and prac­tices, such as the adop­tion of pres­sur­ized low-vol­ume irri­ga­tion sys­tems to improve water appli­ca­tion effi­ciency.

The irri­ga­tion sys­tem is designed accord­ing to a com­pre­hen­sive and exhaus­tive soil map­ping deter­min­ing suit­able areas for devel­op­ment and most appro­pri­ate valve design and shift arrange­ments,” he said.

Adoption of state-of-the-art irri­ga­tion sched­ul­ing and soil and tree mon­i­tor­ing help to bet­ter eval­u­ate the response sys­tem to the amount of water applied through irri­ga­tion,” Ravetti added.

He also detailed the impor­tance of adopt­ing per­ma­nent crop con­ser­va­tion man­age­ment for the inter rows with a strict pol­icy of no-tillage.”


Efforts to pro­tect olive trees are in tan­dem with strate­gic steps to pro­tect staff and farm work­ers. A report from Valley Public Radio said that as California’s heat wave inten­si­fies, farm­work­ers in some regions are bear­ing the brunt. State offi­cials say they are send­ing more agents out to help pro­tect work­ers by enforc­ing the state’s heat reg­u­la­tions.

The report noted that early signs of heat stroke can include nau­sea, dizzi­ness and headaches. California law requires employ­ers to pro­vide breaks for work­ers, shade and drink­ing water. The report con­firmed that across California, state offi­cials have fined more than 500 employ­ers for vio­lat­ing heat reg­u­la­tions this year.

In con­trast, offi­cials at California Olive Ranch, Enzo and Cobram Estate said work­ing con­di­tions are a top pri­or­ity. The employ­ers added that they work dili­gently to pro­tect work­ers in high-heat con­di­tions.

Lipman explained that California Olive Ranch has pro­ce­dures in place to take care of team mem­ber safety.

Our focus, first and fore­most, is the safety of our team mem­bers, espe­cially dur­ing this heat wave,” he said. When we have high tem­per­a­tures, we adjust the team’s sched­ules so they are active dur­ing the cooler hours.”

That could mean work­ing nights instead of days or shift­ing their start times to ear­lier in the day,” Lipman added. All work­ers have access to shade and water when they are in the field. Hydration is so impor­tant.”

Ricchiuti echoed that the safety of Enzo team mem­bers and farm work­ers is a top pri­or­ity, espe­cially in extreme heat. We take great care of the well-being of team mem­bers and make sure every­one enjoys a safe work­ing envi­ron­ment,” he said.

When the heat rises, we shift our sched­ule to an ear­lier start so we are not out in the ele­ments dur­ing peak tem­per­a­tures,” Ricchiuti added. We also will do cer­tain farm activ­i­ties like spray­ing overnight when the tem­per­a­tures are much cooler for our team mem­bers.”

Ravetti con­curred: Cobram Estate uses a high degree of automa­tion and mech­a­niza­tion in our farms,” he said. This enables us to adopt a flex­i­ble approach regard­ing work­ing hours and times of day when cer­tain prac­tices need to occur.”

This flex­i­bil­ity, in turn, helps us pro­vide the best pos­si­ble work­ing envi­ron­ment for our staff when extreme cli­matic con­di­tions occur,” Ravetti added.

According to CBS News, high tem­per­a­tures are expected to drop back into the 90s (32 ºC to 37 ºC), although triple dig­its may return to the region. With this extreme heat as a back­drop, pro­duc­ers weighed in on what is needed for suc­cess in the upcom­ing har­vest.

Lipman iden­ti­fied irri­ga­tion as the vital com­po­nent for a suc­cess­ful har­vest. Irrigation is the most impor­tant vari­able we are con­trol­ling today. Irrigation is crit­i­cal to allow the fruit to size and to drive fat accu­mu­la­tion,” he said. We are also per­form­ing some canopy man­age­ment activ­i­ties to allow for effi­cient fruit removal with the har­vesters.”

Optimism is the mes­sage from Ricchiuti. We are look­ing for­ward to a suc­cess­ful har­vest this sea­son,” he said. We have invested in some amaz­ing tech­nol­ogy to under­stand bet­ter how the trees are being impacted so we can make the needed farm adjust­ments in real-time.”

The olive tree is well equipped to deal with high tem­per­a­tures pro­vid­ing rel­e­vant cul­tural prac­tices such as prun­ing, fer­til­iza­tion and, fun­da­men­tally irri­ga­tion, are well exe­cuted,” Ravetti added. Continuing to apply best hor­ti­cul­tural prac­tices over the com­ing months will be impor­tant to ensure nor­mal devel­op­ment of the fruit and its oil accu­mu­la­tion.”

Results will always be influ­enced to some extent by cli­matic con­di­tions, but with proper man­age­ment, it is pos­si­ble to mit­i­gate poten­tial impacts on yields and qual­ity,” he con­cluded.


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