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Drought, freezes diminish Calif. table olive crop

Tim Hearden

Capital Press

The National Agricultural Statistics Service forecasts that this year's table olive crop in California will be 45 percent smaller than last year's. But an industry leader says NASS may even have been too optimistic with its report.

Capital Press

SACRAMENTO — The leader of a growers’ group says this year’s table olive crop in California is likely even smaller than the 50,000 tons forecast by a federal agency here.

The National Agricultural Statistics Service’s prediction would represent a 45 percent drop from last year’s haul of 91,000 tons.

But Adin Hester, president of the Olive Growers Council of California in Visalia, thinks NASS’ forecast is a little too optimistic considering all the factors that are bedeviling olive production this year.

“It goes beyond the drought,” he said. “It’s alternate bearing and we had a good, strong crop last year, so we were expecting the crop to be less. But drought is certainly adding to the pain of the growers, that’s for sure.”

Hester believe the crop is closer to 35,000 tons considering a pair of freezes that affected trees during the winter, wind during bloom and a lack of water to allow the crop to fully produce.

He said many olive trees have been taken out of production. The San Joaquin Valley now has about 12,000 acres of table olives, down from about 18,000 a few years ago.

“We just don’t see that much crop out there,” Hester said. He added that “a lack of water … means serious trouble when you try to size a crop. When the fruit begins to grow, it stresses the trees.”

Growers have enjoyed decent crops in the past two years after suffering through poor crops in four of the previous six seasons, including three years ago when adverse whether during the bloom stifled orchards that were already stressed from the previous year’s heavy loads.

California produces nearly all of the nation’s commercial table olives, although acreage has been shrinking as growers move to more profitable crops.

NASS based its forecast on reports from 172 growers who were asked to estimate production by variety. The agency expects Manzanillos to make up the bulk of the crop — 41,000 tons — with Sevillanos coming in a distant second at 7,500 tons.

The setback for table olives comes as the state’s historic drought is taking a toll on a variety of crops. NASS forecast raisin grapes to come in at 1.95 million tons, down 13 percent from the 2013 final production, as the crop was hit by springtime hail and has struggled with a lack of water.

For that report, agency and California Department of Food and Agriculture officials counted, measured and weighed grape bunches in 314 raisin-type vineyards in July.


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