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California olive oil producers report good yields, quality

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Tim Hearden
The harvest of olives for oil is under way in California, as growers are reporting good yields and good fruit quality. The table olive harvest has been more spotty, as better crops have emerged in Central California orchards.

ARTOIS, Calif. — While the table olive harvest in California has been spotty, olive oil producers say their yields are running as much as 20 percent above last year’s.

Olive oil processors in the Golden State expect to produce about 3.2 million gallons this year – a sharp increase the roughly 2.5 million gallons turned out in 2012, said Adam Englehardt, vice president of the California Olive Ranch here.

As with other crops, a dry spring and warm summer pushed the olive harvest about two weeks ahead of schedule, and the earlier maturity has helped bolster the fat content of the fruit, Englehardt and other industry insiders said.

“So far, the yields that have been coming out of the field have been pretty good,” said Brian Mori, a California Olive Ranch grower representative. “It looks to be a condensed season, with good yields and good quality.”

The olive ranch’s mill here had just started running as of Oct. 15, and Englehardt said he thinks the harvest will wrap up by Thanksgiving. Typically, olives grown for oil and picked until the first week of December, he said.

Grower Larry Maben, who sells to the olive ranch, said his trees near Orland, Calif., are still a couple of weeks away from harvest. “They look pretty decent at this point,” he said.

The Gerber, Calif.-based Pacific Farms and Orchards, which produces Pacific Sun olive oil, has experienced light years in some of its early varieties, general manager Brendon Flynn said.

“We expected the crop to be a little bit better than it was,” he said. However, “we’re a bit early in the season, so we don’t have a full picture yet.”

The harvest of olives for oil is starting as the picking of table olives has been under way for several weeks. Farmers report that yields have been mixed, with the heavier crops appearing in Central California orchards, according to the California Farm Bureau Federation.

Growers have also said they’ve had trouble finding enough people to pick their olives, as some crews have had only had about half the workers they usually do, the state Farm Bureau reports.

Some table olive growers had expected to exceed the federal government’s forecast of a 75,000-ton canning olive crop, which would be down 4 percent from last year’s 78,500 tons. However, olives in the San Joaquin Valley haven’t sized as well as expected because of a lack of rain, said Adin Hester, president of the Olive Growers Council of California in Visalia.

In the Sacramento Valley, meanwhile, a recent band of rainfall improved tonnage for growers, Hester said.



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