`Trials and Tribulations of Commercial Olive Oil Production in the U.K.


Trials and Tribulations of Commercial Olive Oil Production in the U.K.

Jan. 27, 2012
Jacki Topiol

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The United King­dom might not be the first loca­tion for a com­mer­cial olive grove that springs to mind, but Neil Davy, pro­pri­etor of Hug­git’s Farm in Kent, has other ideas.

Kent, a county in the south of Eng­land, has one of the warmest and dri­est cli­mates in the coun­try. And this is one of the rea­sons Mr. Davy is con­fi­dent that olive trees might just have a bet­ter than aver­age chance of thriv­ing in an area that’s known as The Gar­den of Eng­land.’

The trees cho­sen are a mix­ture of both self-fer­tile and pol­li­na­tors, with the idea that this will help to increase the amount of oil yielded from the fruits. All have been specif­i­cally planted because of their resilience to the cold, as well as other con­sid­er­a­tions such as oil con­tent, dis­tinct fla­vors and resis­tance to dis­ease. The vari­eties of olive trees include Fran­toio, Picholine and Pen­dolino.

Snow and Gales

Hug­git’s Farm’s olive tree ven­ture began in 2010. After some ini­tial test plant­ing of trees, the win­ter of 2010/11 proved to be unsea­son­ably harsh, with snow blan­ket­ing the coun­try­side. This was fol­lowed by a dry and warm sum­mer, and this win­ter has, so far, been extremely mild.


How­ever, the biggest con­cern is the stress caused to the trees by wind. The site is located next to ancient sea cliffs and already this win­ter has been bat­tered by winds of up to 60 mph.

But, as Mr. Davy says, Although want­ing all our trees to thrive, we are really hop­ing that as we con­duct our tri­als, Mother Nature deliv­ers the worst she can muster to put the trees through their paces.”

Of the six cul­ti­vars we have planted, a cou­ple of trees do look to be strug­gling, some Lec­cino and Fran­toios par­tic­u­larly. How­ever, other trees of the same cul­ti­var are thriv­ing, so we draw some con­so­la­tion that it may be those indi­vid­ual trees, rather than the vari­ety, that could strug­gle.”

Of course, only time will tell if the trees will man­age to thrive here. Cli­mate change is very real, and the UK is grow­ing crops that once would never have been con­sid­ered a pos­si­bil­ity. So if the exper­i­ment goes to plan, it appears that olive groves, once a sight only seen in Mediter­ranean cli­mates, could well become a per­ma­nent fea­ture of the Eng­lish coun­try­side.

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