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Modern Table Olive Acreage Well Positioned for Growth in Parched CA

With emergency drought regulations being prepared and cuts in state and federal water deliveries being announced, farmers and ranchers are being forced to make tough decisions about the future of their operations.  One crop now getting a lot of attention as a possible alternative is table olives, grown in the modern acreage format, which the U.C. Davis Olive Center has called “California’s crop of the future.”

The main catalyst for that attention is the olive modern acreage initiative, an effort being spearheaded by the Musco Family Olive Co. in partnership with U.S. family olive farmers. The U.S. grower/processor olive initiative is promoting a more competitive, drought-tolerant, environmentally friendly U.S.-based table olive sector by moving the industry towards a modern acreage format adaptable to mechanical harvesting and efficient irrigation methods.

While traditional olive acreage is typically planted 60 to 80 trees per acre and hand-harvested, the modern acreage system is optimized with 200 to 250 trees per acre and mechanical harvesting using shaker technology. This approach doubles the yield per acre and reduces harvesting costs to roughly one-third of hand harvesting, which drives significantly improved grower economics.  Just as important is the fact that olive trees are also drought-tolerant and annually use less water than almonds or walnuts – a critical attribute given California’s constant drought concerns, rising water costs, and a tightening water supply.  The trees enjoy peak productivity for decades and perform well on marginal soil, which helps minimize capital investment.

“The looming challenges facing all farmers – limited water supply, rising water costs, increasing labor costs, decreasing labor supply, loss of prime farmland, and reliance on selling products to volatile foreign markets – are all effectively addressed when planting and growing olives in the modern format,” said Dennis Burreson, a grower and vice president of field operations and industry affairs for Musco Family Olive Co. He added, “When you learn of the significant environmental benefits of the trees being drought tolerant and the recent successful trade actions, family farmers become very interested. As a result, we have already committed one million nursery stock trees free to select grower partners who stand ready to plant their own state-of-the-art orchards.”

The U.S. government’s effective enforcement of U.S. trade remedy laws has provided a major boost to the hundreds of family farmers and processors comprising the U.S.-based olive industry. Since 2018, the United States has imposed antidumping and countervailing duties to redress heavily subsidized and dumped ripe olives from Spain, which for years have unfairly seized U.S. market share and pushed U.S. farmers and processors to the brink. By restoring fairness to the U.S. marketplace, those duties are giving the U.S.-based industry the time it needs to invest in its future competitiveness and protect thousands of American jobs. Today, the California ripe olive industry has regained nearly all the grocery business it had previously lost due to unfairly priced Spanish product.

Because the modern acreage plantings will take time to reach maturity, the U.S.-based olive industry is taking every step necessary to ensure that effective antidumping and countervailing duties remain in place at the border. This includes actively monitoring imports and taking further actions as appropriate to stop evasion and other unfair imports that undermine a fair U.S. marketplace.

“California’s olive growers have been taking every step possible to ensure a prosperous and growing table olive industry that will continue to provide the American consumer with premium California-grown ripe olives. We are grateful for the Biden Administration’s commitment to continued strong trade enforcement and ‘Build Back Better’ policies, which align with our industry’s aims and should help safeguard the future for table olives that are grown and processed in America,” said Andy Weinrich, a table olive grower from Glenn County who planted 80 acres in the modern acreage format about eight years ago.

To provide growers with a better understanding of the benefits of modern acreage, the University of California, Davis Olive Center will host a free webinar on modernizing table olive groves on Wednesday, June 23, from 9 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.  To register for the webinar, visit: https://www.olives.com/milliontrees/

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