What is in this article?:
- Olive plantings expand into Southern California, Arizona
- Olive tree requirements
- UCCE olive field trial
- The Barkley experience
- About 200 acres of olives grown for olive oil are planted In California’s Imperial County and Arizona’s Yuma County.
- About 160 of the acres are planted at the Beach Line Citrus farm in Niland, Calif.
- Olives require about half of the water than many other major crops in the desert environment.
Olive tree requirements
The olive trees at Beach Line Citrus consume 2-3 acre feet of water annually, delivered by surface-drip irrigation from the Colorado River. Water costs are about $20 per acre foot.
This compares to 5-6 acre feet per acre for lemons and many other locally-grown crops.
So far, no pest or disease threats have surfaced.
Barioni says it takes three to four years for olive plants to reach commercial production. He hopes for 3-5 ton-per-acre yields in the future.
The trees are grown on a single-wire-trellis system which Barioni refers to as “training wheels for olives.” Once the trees mature, the trellising will likely be removed.
Barioni is adding few nutrients for crop development, perhaps 2 percent to 5 percent of the total nitrogen used for major crops over a year. He may switch to an 11-8-3 N-P-K fertilizer mix with boron, applied at the flowering stage. Fertilization and cultivate are still a learning curve for the olive growers.
Vertical integration is crucial to the company’s overall olive venture. A large olive mill is scheduled to open this November about 30 miles to the south in a business park near the Imperial airport.
The mill will wash the olives and crush the fruit. Malaxers will massage the paste and release the oil.
The mill is a partnership between Beach Line Citrus, Imperial California Olive Mill, and Temecula Olive Oil Company. Temecula currently mills and sells oil generated from the farm’s olives and this will continue.
“The key to producing great extra virgin olive oil starts with good fruit,” said Thom Curry, general manager of the mill and the olive oil companies.
Also critical is quick delivery of just-harvested fruit to the mill, plus high quality processing equipment including stainless steel tanks.
Curry says olive oil is a fast-growing product with double-digit sale increases every year.
“Our goal is to produce 1 percent of the olive oil market,” Curry said.
Ninety-six percent of the nation’s olive crop is grown in California in the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys. The top five olive-producing counties include San Joaquin, Glenn, Tehama, and Fresno, respectively.
According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, California olive growers generated about $53 million in cash income in 2011.