(Information gleaned from an article by Lori Zanteson, Olive Oil Times Contributor)

University of California, Davis Cooperative Extension olive expert Paul Vossen predicts this year's California olive oil crush will be the highest ever.

Producers are expected to press 1.2 million gallons of oil from olives harvested in 2010.

The increase is due, in part, to almost 10,000 trees planted in the spring of 2008, many of which are now coming into production.

These trees were planted in super-high-density trellised configurations, not unlike grapevines. Traditionally, about 100 olive trees were planted to the acre. With the new system, 500 trees are planted to the acre in hedgerows, which come into production more quickly and allow for efficient mechanical harvesting. California began super-high-density planting of olive trees in 1999.

Density rates in California have grown as high as 908 trees per acre, according to a 2009 survey from the UC Davis Olive Center. According to the survey, 12,127 acres of super-high-density trees were planted in California as of the end of 2008, with almost 80 percent of the acreage planted between 2005 and 2008. This has increased to about 17,000 acres after 4,500 acres were planted last year. Glenn and San Joaquin counties have the most planted acreage, followed by Butte County. The most common olive variety is the Arbequina, an olive native to Spain. It is planted to 78 percent of the state’s super-high-density acreage.

Dan Flynn, director of the UC Davis Olive Center, says people are consuming more olive oil each year and the increased production means there’s “a lot of high quality California oil this year compared to last year,” meaning “you’ll be able to find California oil more readily around the country. California’s production is growing so rapidly that its olive oils are beginning to make an impression, even among those of the world’s top producers, according to Flynn. “Some of the higher volume (California) producers are competing with some of the higher importers.”

Flynn believes California could rank among the world’s top 10 olive oil producers within the decade.