`Texan Olive Oil Pioneers Ready for Next Phase - Olive Oil Times

Texan Olive Oil Pioneers Ready for Next Phase

Jan. 7, 2013
Nancy Flagg

Recent News


Texas Agricultural Commissioner Todd Staples (far right) and Jim Henry (sec­ond from right) with fel­low Texan olive oil pio­neers

Texas has long been known for its crude oil. Black gold. Texas tea. But, another kind of oil is mak­ing head­way. Liquid gold. Oleum oli­vae. Olive oil.

Plantings of the first olive trees in Texas pre­ceded the first pro­duc­ing crude oil wells by more than 150 years; nev­er­the­less, crude oil was the first oil to boom in Texas. However, olive oil’s time has finally arrived. Drawing inspi­ra­tion from suc­cess­ful tree plant­i­ngs in the early 1900’s, Trigg Dealey and Jim Henry, co-found­ing direc­tors of the Texas Oil Council, became key play­ers in the begin­nings of the Texas olive oil indus­try.

In the 1990’s, Dealey and busi­ness part­ner Baxter Adams planted 168 Italian olive trees near San Antonio to test the via­bil­ity of olive oil there but the trees were even­tu­ally lost to a freeze. Meanwhile, busi­ness­man Jim Henry was also exper­i­ment­ing with plant­i­ngs in dif­fer­ent soil types and cli­mate zones. Henry said that he planted 20 to 40 acres in the wrong place and had to move them.”

Henry then planted the state’s first com­mer­cial orchard in the south. Encouraged by the results, he and his part­ners Karen Lee, Jerry Farrell and Penny Farrell cre­ated the Texas Olive Ranch and planted 40,000 trees. The ranch pro­duced 3,000 gal­lons of olive oil in its first har­vest in 2007 and has since won medals for its olive oils.

A large-scale new invest­ment is under­way with Henry’s pur­chase of land in Victoria, Texas near the Gulf Coast. Henry plans on plant­ing 300,000 new olive trees in the area.

Henry explained that we finally fig­ured out where to put the trees. The grow­ing zones in the hill coun­try and south Texas brush coun­try have lots of tem­per­a­ture fluc­tu­a­tions in the spring. The secret to good pro­duc­tion is to have a tem­per­a­ture dur­ing the bloom­ing process and fruit set that is not too volatile.” He believes that the Gulf Coast offers a favor­able mod­er­ate cli­mate, par­tic­u­larly dur­ing the crit­i­cal January through March period.

Henry envi­sions the new orchards as a tourism draw. The ranch is located on Highway 59 which is a major thor­ough­fare from Houston to south Texas.

Over 100,000 cars each day go right past the orchard. We bought the land for its high­way vis­i­bil­ity,” says Henry. Many Americans have no clue that olives are grown in America. Showing the orchard to peo­ple who drive by is bet­ter than any other way to adver­tise the indus­try,” Henry added.

Bringing Texas-grown extra vir­gin olive oil to con­sumers is also Karen Lee’s objec­tive. Her com­pany, Cowgirl Brands, LLC in Kyle, Texas is a whole­saler of olive oil and bal­samic vine­gar. She buys EVOO from Texas Olive Ranch, Farrell’s Olive Orchards and other pro­duc­ers and bot­tles and sells the oil. Her pri­mary mar­kets are higher-end gro­cery stores and farmer’s mar­kets.

She said that Cowgirl Brands goes to 25 farmer’s mar­kets across the state on most week­ends where they can talk to con­sumers and explain the dif­fer­ences between Texan EVOO and imports” and offer taste sam­ples of the fresh local oil. In a report she wrote to the U.S. International Trade Commission, Lee stated that con­sumers who have tasted the dif­fer­ence between local olive oil and value priced imports, pas­sion­ately pre­fer domes­ti­cally pro­duced olive oil, and they demand the fresh­est, most locally pro­duced extra vir­gin olive oil they can get.”

Lee notes that the price of Texas olive oil is not com­pet­i­tive with imports partly because the cost of pro­duc­ing Texas oil is high dur­ing the devel­op­ment phase of the indus­try. Once the infra­struc­ture is in place and pro­duc­tion vol­ume increases, pro­duc­ers will be able to mar­ket the oil to larger mer­chan­dis­ers and sell at more com­pet­i­tive prices.

The vol­ume and num­ber of grow­ers in increas­ing. Jim Henry says that the state now has 50 grow­ers, though he esti­mates that only 5 to 10 of them are com­mer­cial oper­a­tors.

John Gambini of the Texas Hill Country Olive Company is one of the new olive oil pro­duc­ers. His approach is dif­fer­ent from oth­ers in that he trav­elled to California and pur­chased five vari­eties of older trees to bring back to Texas. He planted the trees in the spring of 2009 and they bore fruit in the fall of the same year.

Gambini says that his orchard is the only cer­ti­fied organic olive orchard in Texas and he notes that his olive oils have won medals in the Los Angeles County Extra Virgin Olive Oil com­pe­ti­tion.

Gambini has 2,000 trees on his land south­west of Austin. He is excited about the future for olive oil in Texas” and is plan­ning to buy more land fur­ther south and plant 100,000 trees.

Jim Henry believes that the time has come for farm­ers in the state to take up large-scale com­mer­cial olive oil pro­duc­tion and bring their expe­ri­enced grow­ing meth­ods to the ven­ture. There is no mid­dle ground – the equip­ment is expen­sive and there has to be enough acreage to sup­port the equip­ment,” said Henry. He also added that Texas Olive Ranch cur­rently pro­vides milling ser­vices to other grow­ers to help with their start-up.

The Texas olive oil boom is still in its infancy and pro­duces only a small frac­tion of what California pro­duces. However, Karen Lee projects that in the next two years, the amount of acreage in Texas devoted to olive oil will quadru­ple and there will be a boat­load of new trees.”

There’s no ques­tion that there will be a viable olive oil indus­try in Texas, assures Lee, that horse has left the barn.”

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