What is in this article?:
- "Hand-harvesting costs are driving this industry into the ground," says Louise Ferguson, University of California Extension specialist.
- Because most olive growers have diversified operations, she said, they may not know “what part of the operation is eroding their capital"
Joe Hallmeyer, center, an olive grower and owner of Ken’s Stakes and Supplies in Visalia, talks with Southern California Edison representatives Nick Henschel, right, and Richard Dennis.
California table olive growers are gearing up for what is being termed a modest crop in the Central Valley and a strong crop in the north.
“Up there, it’s a limb buster in Tehama and Glenn counties, with trees drooping,” said Adin Hester, president and chief executive officer of the Olive Growers Council in Visalia.
Hester, who cited some adverse weather conditions in the Valley during fruit set, was among those who spoke during the 6th Annual Central Valley Olive Day in Exeter. He and others cautioned growers not to “panic” and take on harvesting crews at inflated prices early, despite an expected labor shortage.
Those at the Exeter gathering also heard from speakers on topics that included research into alternate bearing in olives that results in larger and smaller crops, use of solar power, efforts by the University of California Davis Olive Center to boost standards, a pilot crop insurance program and farm crime.
And Dennis Burreson, chairman of the California Olive Committee’s Research Committee, gave his assessment of successes, setbacks and the status of nearly a dozen projects.
“We’ve had one outrageous success,” said Burreson, director of field operations for the Musco Family Olive Co. in Orland, pointing to control of the olive fruit fly.
“Ten years ago, when the olive fly came out of the Los Angeles area, we as an industry were in total panic, and we reached out to researchers,” he said. “We found it was a single host pest. What could we do? Today it is a manageable situation.”
Spraying with Spinosad has helped keep the fly in check, Burreson said. But there’s concern other materials, such as Danitol may be needed as well for better containment.
Burreson said, thanks to research, the industry is doing better at identifying verticillium wilt. But it needs to get a better handle on olive knot disease, he said, and “the jury is still out” when it comes to mechanical harvesting of table olives.
Several speakers noted that the table olive industry’s survivability depends on whether it can adopt mechanized harvesting. And Burreson noted it is being used elsewhere, in Spain and Argentina.
Growers in other countries are willing, he said, to accept harvest efficiencies in the 60 percent range, while California growers have a standard of 80 percent or more. Two harvesting technologies — trunk shaking and canopy contact — average less than 67 percent efficiency.
And producers in some other countries accept “barking,” but those in California do not, Burreson said.
Although some research will continue on mechanical harvesting and Burreson has 100 acres set aside for that purpose, he said this marks the final year of a committee project on mechanization funded at $55,500.