Just across the Colorado River in southwestern Arizona, the Barkley family has farmed in Yuma County since 1918. The Barkley Company of Arizona grows winter vegetables, wheat, barley, dates, sudangrass, alfalfa, and more recently, olives for oil.

The company’s 18 acres of SHD olives – the Arbosana, Arbequina, and Koroneiki varieties – were planted in 2009 on produce-quality ground in Somerton in the lower Yuma Valley. The Arbequina and Koroneiki varieties are spaced 5-by-12 feet. The Arbosana is planted 4-by-12.

The first commercial crop was harvested last fall with a rented mechanical harvester. The Arbosana yield was 3.5-tons-per-acre; 2-plus-tons-per-acre for the Arbequina and Koroneiki fruit.

“I think olives will be a good crop for us,” said Tim Thompson, Barkley’s special projects manager. “Olive trees are extremely adapted to this desert area.”

Barkley’s olives were pressed last fall at the Queen Creek Olive Mill in Queen Creek, located near Phoenix.

Barkley’s will take delivery of a mechanical olive harvester this year. In addition to harvesting their own olives, the machine will likely harvest olives in the Imperial Valley.

Barkley’s olive groves are irrigated via surface drip from the Colorado River. The orchards are flooded occasionally to push salts further down into the soil.

A key to olive production, all of the desert growers told Farm Press, is that olives can be grown in marginal soils. On the Barkley farm, future plantings will likely be on marginal ground.

“Keeping the olive trees dwarfed in the fast-growing desert environment with the extreme summer heat will be a challenge,” Thompson said.

Nationally, only about 1 percent of the olive oil consumed in the U.S. is actually grown in the U.S. These growers, and other farm entrepreneurs, hope to reduce this major home-grown olive oil deficit.

cblake@farmpress.com

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