SACRAMENTO — Table olive growers in California expect an abundant crop and good prices, but the industry is still frustrated by rising production costs and increased global competition.
This year’s anticipated 73,000-ton crop would be up 9 percent from last year’s 67,100-ton load, according to a National Agricultural Statistics Service survey.
Bearing acreage is estimated at 19,000, which results in a yield of 3.84 tons per acre, NASS reports.
“It looks like it’s going to be a better crop than normal,” said Adin Hester, president of the Cloverdale-based Olive Growers Council of California. “It could be a little bit higher than we expected.”
Hester said prices to growers will likely be a little less than last year’s average of about $1,100 per ton, which was near an all-time high. However, production costs this past year were above $2,000 per acre, which includes harvesting costs of between $450 and $550 per ton, he said.
With the lingering labor shortage, some growers may need to boost their harvest costs even further, he said.
Another issue, Hester said, is that domestic table olives are being undercut by cheaper, subsidized Spanish olives that have flooded the marketplace. Black, sliced olives from Spain have practically taken over the food service sector, as they are used on everything from pizzas to buffet bars, he said.
“When you look at the acreage difference, Spain’s got 5 and a half million acres of olives” including oil olives, Hester said. “Now they’re matching us ton for ton.”
The table olive industry is urging the U.S. Commerce Department to consider placing duties on Spanish olives, he said.
In the orchards, this is an “on” year for the alternate-bearing trees, which bore about 78,000 tons in 2015. Favorable temperatures and increased rainfall improved growing conditions this year, as a cold January and February led to good floral development with a high bloom and adequate pollen, NASS reported.
Some growers were concerned that hot temperatures during the summer bloom could reduce the set, according to NASS.
But the crop portends a third season of relative stability for a commodity whose yields saw wild ups and downs in recent years, peaking at a record 170,000 tons in 2010 but coming in below 40,000 tons four times since 2006.
The last time was in 2014, when freezes and a lack of water led to yields of only 37,120 tons.
The uncertainty prompted many growers to switch to more lucrative nuts or navel oranges, bringing acreage down from a peak of 38,000 about a decade ago.
However, this year’s projected bearing acreage is even with last year’s and up slightly from the roughly 18,000 acres of table olives grown in 2015.
NASS established this year’s forecast based on reports from 142 growers around the state, the agency reported.