Farmers in New Zealand Optimistic Ahead of Harvest

New techniques, better pruning and benevolent weather are fueling big expectations for the upcoming olive harvest.
Olives New Zealand farmers
Mar. 31, 2022
Paolo DeAndreis

Recent News

Olive grow­ers in New Zealand expect good results from the com­ing har­vest sea­son.

Local farm­ers con­firmed that fruits are already dot­ting the trees in most groves, and this year’s har­vest appears to be larger than the pre­vi­ous two.

It would be the third year in a row pro­duc­tion has increased. About 200,000 liters were pro­duced in the 2019/20 crop year, with 270,000 liters pro­duced in 2020/21.

However, the expected growth does not sur­prise local experts since the weather has been favor­able in recent months.

See Also:Former Fighter Pilot Steers Loopline Olives to the World Stage

Small local grow­ers also con­tinue to learn more about pre­vent­ing dis­ease and over­com­ing chal­lenges, result­ing in grow­ing yields.

The man­ag­ing of most olive groves is improv­ing year over year,” Gayle Sheridan, Olives New Zealands exec­u­tive offi­cer, told Olive Oil Times. We just had a field day with grow­ers and wit­nessed the efforts that many have put into main­tain­ing their groves, opti­mal prun­ing and car­ing for the health of their trees.”

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During the bian­nual field days, the asso­ci­a­tion vis­its olive groves in all the major grow­ing areas of the coun­try.

Some grow­ers in New Zealand are focus­ing on adopt­ing a har­vest sched­ule that might enhance the polyphe­nol and antiox­i­dant con­tent of their extra vir­gin olive oils.

It is an inter­est­ing phe­nom­e­non; analy­ses show how those con­tents are more present in local extra vir­gin olive oil as the con­sumers have also started to under­stand how ben­e­fi­cial they can be for their health,” Sheridan said.

To enhance the health pro­file of their oils, some grow­ers are actively study­ing farm­ing tech­niques that might improve the quan­ti­ties of the healthy con­tents.

They do not want to limit their activ­ity to an early har­vest, which usu­ally ensures a good quan­tity of polyphe­nols; they are also inves­ti­gat­ing what other mea­sures can be adopted,” Sheridan said. It is an area for us that is quite new.”

The types of olive trees planted in New Zealand, most of which come from Greece, Italy, Japan and Spain, can also help farm­ers increase the num­ber of healthy com­pounds in their oils.

Frantoio is the most planted vari­ety in the coun­try,” Sheridan said, but Picual, Picholine, Pendolino, Kalamata and Koreneiki trees are also com­mon.

We do have a New Zealand vari­ety known as J5, but we think it might have been derived from Frantoio as it looks like Frantoio,” Sheridan said.

Identifying the olive vari­eties that could bet­ter adapt to New Zealand’s spe­cific cli­mate has required time and effort for local grow­ers.

Stuart Tustin, a tree fruit phys­i­ol­o­gist and plant and food researcher, told Olive Oil Times that in the 70s and the 80s, many [farm­ers] planted vari­eties com­ing from Middle Eastern coun­tries such as Israel.”

But those trees did not adapt well to these lat­i­tudes,” he added. Now, with most European cul­ti­vars, grow­ers are see­ing way more inter­est­ing yields.”

For its 300 olive farms grow­ing 350,000 trees over 2,130 hectares, the New Zealand har­vest sea­son starts in April in the north and pro­gres­sively moves south, where it should end by early August.

Growers now know that they have to har­vest at the right time and that the full crop has to be har­vested not to have con­se­quences on the fol­low­ing sea­son,” Sheridan said.

See Also:The Best Olive Oils from New Zealand

She added that olive grow­ers in the coun­try pro­duce exclu­sively extra vir­gin olive oil.

Last year, we got 98 per­cent extra vir­gin olive oil,” Sheridan said.

Local extra vir­gin olive oil qual­ity gets tested by spe­cial­ized labs in Australia fol­low­ing International Olive Council’s pro­to­cols and stan­dards for extra vir­gin olive oil.

The Olives New Zealand Association also releases the OliveMark trade­mark, which pro­duc­ers can adopt and show on their cer­ti­fied extra vir­gin olive oil con­tain­ers. The goal of the trade­mark is to instill a sense of trust between the cus­tomers and pro­duc­ers.

Experts cite the con­se­quences of a cli­mate that brings sig­nif­i­cant rain­fall in many areas as one of the main chal­lenges for local olive farm­ers. When there are high humid­ity lev­els, sev­eral pathogens can take advan­tage of the cli­mate and dam­age the olive trees.

The asso­ci­a­tion sug­gests that grow­ers actively com­bat the pathogens and spray their trees every 20 days.

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Stuart Tustin demonstrated pruning

That is needed to keep on top of the dis­eases; oth­er­wise, once you see them, it is too late,” Sheridan said. Many pro­ceed with rel­e­vant prun­ing oper­a­tions, not just once a year as might hap­pen else­where.”

For instance, in these weeks, with the crop loads very vis­i­ble, we sug­gest that many farm­ers prune the branches that do not have fruits, remove them and encour­age new ones to grow,” she added.

According to Tustin, the parts of New Zealand that receive the low­est lev­els of rain­fall are where olive grow­ing is done most suc­cess­fully.

Those areas cor­re­spond to regions where other indus­tries such as our wine indus­try are located,” he said.

Tustin empha­sized how due to the mar­itime cli­mate of the coun­try, even the areas with less rain­fall still report between 500 and 700 mil­lime­ters of rain each year.

While many farm­ers in the Mediterranean basin would be envi­ous of the rain in New Zealand, the pre­cip­i­ta­tion cre­ates con­di­tions for sev­eral dis­eases, includ­ing Spilocaea oleaginea
(pea­cock spot) or Cercospora.

Those are heav­ily chal­leng­ing pathogens because so many of our grow­ers are small enter­prises planted by peo­ple that did not antic­i­pate that they would have to become… hor­ti­cul­tur­ists,” Tustin said.

He added how many grow­ers in the past did not prac­tice dis­ease con­trol, exper­i­ment­ing with con­se­quences such as leaf loss and reduced pro­duc­tiv­ity. Not all of them pruned the trees cor­rectly or at all.

In such cases, we would find groves with trees out of con­trol, com­pli­cated by a high dis­ease pres­sure,” Tustin said.

That is why Olives New Zealand, Tustin and other local experts recently started a series of projects to restore sev­eral unhealthy olive groves, pro­gres­sively remov­ing excess branches. This allowed the light to come back on the trees while pro­gres­sively reduc­ing pests and pathogens thanks to cor­rect prun­ing.

Tustin said that many grow­ers have under­stood why the lack of prun­ing is a prob­lem.

In the last year, as some of those groves were full with their beau­ti­ful canopy on top, they have seen how trees that once pro­duced between 10 to 15 kilo­grams of olives are now closer to 20 to 25 kilo­grams,” he added.

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One of the most inter­est­ing research areas for Tustin and local experts is the need for some olive grow­ers to find organic alter­na­tives to spray­ing their trees with pes­ti­cides.

Initially, they did not have sprays they could use, so we worked on devel­op­ing organic-com­pat­i­ble spray pro­grams,” he said. To that end, I also con­tacted researchers from the University of Bari in Italy. We devel­oped a spray pro­gram com­pat­i­ble with organic olive farm­ing sim­i­lar to what we use for organic apple dis­ease con­trol.”

It is still too early to say how suc­cess­ful it is,” Tustin added. At the moment, though, we see that its early results resem­ble those of the con­ven­tional spray pro­gram, which is quite encour­ag­ing.”

For local olive oil pro­duc­ers, sea­sonal mar­kets are the best way to reach the con­sumers, Sheridan said.

Those con­sumers want to know more about the prod­uct, how it is grown and if sprays are being used,” she added. They ask ques­tions and are very dis­cern­ing about the olive oil they buy.”

Like other pro­duc­ing coun­tries, local con­sumers might notice price dif­fer­ences between the extra vir­gin olive oils sold by the local grow­ers and the imported brands found on super­mar­ket shelves.

Yes, we have imports from dif­fer­ent coun­tries, such as Spain or Italy, and the price dif­fer­ence is a bit of a chal­lenge for us in mak­ing the con­sumers under­stand more about our extra vir­gin olive oils, the cer­ti­fi­ca­tion and the qual­ity,” Sheridan said.

There are no high-den­sity or super-high-den­sity olive groves active in the coun­try, while irri­ga­tion is present in about one-quar­ter of the total groves.

The largest three grow­ers boast 40,000 trees, 27,000 and 7,000, respec­tively, while 70 per­cent of olive groves con­tain less than 1,000 trees.

Commercial groves, which can part­ner with super­mar­kets, rep­re­sent 13 per­cent of the total in New Zealand. However, Olives New Zealand expects this fig­ure to rise as more small grow­ers part­ner with larger ones.

Those mar­ket dynam­ics paired with the enhanced pro­duc­tiv­ity of the groves could also help the coun­try improve the per­cent­age of local extra vir­gin olive oils con­sumed in the coun­try.

New Zealanders con­sume approx­i­mately 4.5 mil­lion liters a year, 10 to 15 per­cent of which is locally pro­duced.


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