The recent announcement of table olive processing contracts being cancelled by Bell-Carter Foods on nearly 4,500 acres of olives grown in Tulare County has Tulare County Farm Bureau paying attention. Farm Bureau is asking state and federal officials to take action to assist those growers impacted by these contract cancellations.
Specifically the ask from growers is to help close a loophole that has allowed a foreign company to acquire ownership in a US based olive processor, and flood the market with cheap foreign olives while displacing California olive growers. What happens in this commodity can certainly happen in others.
In Tulare County approximately 4,500 acres of olives will be impacted by this action, prompted by the announcement that a European conglomerate, Dcoop, has acquired a 20% ownership interest in Bell-Carter Foods and will be shipping cheaper grown Spanish and Argentine olives into the US for processing under a loophole that will allow the company to avoid paying tariffs on their imported raw unprocessed olives.
The impacts to our local economy will be felt by many, including the olive growers who have lost their processing contracts, and the 1500 estimated farm workers who could find their annual income severely impacted by the loss of the harvest work that is traditionally done in September and October when olive picking occurs. “These are highly skilled workers that will lose some of their most lucrative earning opportunity with this acreage going out of production,” stated olive grower Bill Ferry.
Significant impacts that concern Farm Bureau and local growers are:
- loss of farm revenue to the olive growers who lost their processing contracts;
- abandonment of groves causing nuisance, and pest and disease concerns for adjacent landowners;
- farm labor contractors reducing hours available to their workers during the pruning and harvesting periods for olives, loss of those jobs and workers leaving the sector entirely;
- consumers being sold products from foreign countries with less strenuous food safety regulations;
- farm land acreage being lost, which may cause premature development in rural areas;
- excessive costs to growers on redevelopment of land into other agriculture crops
- uncertainty with Sustainable Groundwater Management Act reductions in groundwater supplies;
- loss of tax revenue to the county and region generated by these job.
While there is one other major table olive processor in California, Musco Family Olive Co. is not able at this time to ensure that all of this contracted acreage could be processed in their facilities. Until it is known, the displaced growers face great financial uncertainty.
Olive growers also have less than one week to determine if they will renew their crop insurance for the 2019-20 growing season. It would be difficult to incur the expense for crop insurance for a crop they cannot sell.