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OSU Project Helps Grow Olives in Oregon

OSU Project Helps Grow Olives in Oregon

While Oregon, with its rainy, cold winters may not jump to mind, Oregon State University’s Olea Project is working closely with farmers to make Oregon a more viable olive producer.

In 2017, after Oregon olive farmers reached out to researchers at OSU, the Olea Project was founded with, according to the project’s website, “goals of making olive production economically feasible and reducing climatic limitations for olive growers during establishment in Oregon’s unique growing conditions.”

Though the project consists only of a team of three – retired Community Horticulturist Neil Bell, Community Horticulturist and Small Farms Extension Agent for Yamhill County Heather Stoven, and Agricultural Outreach Coordinator Hayley White – the project has been very active in the past six years in developing olives into a more viable crop for Oregon farmers.

“ The Olea Project received a couple grants to help out with olive growers and then it’s just kind of gone from there,” Stoven said. “There’s been a lot of interest (in the program). And so we’ve done our best to keep this project going as well as we can with our capacities.”

The unique qualifications of the team members help to offset some of the issues that having such a small research team may otherwise experience.

“For many years, Heather Stoven and I have researched woody landscape plants for un-irrigated landscapes in the Willamette Valley, collecting data on cold hardiness, growth, flowering and pest and disease issues,’ Bell said. “Although olive is a tree fruit crop, the basic idea and methodology is similar to the work we had already been doing.”

Bell went on to say that a big factor in his initial involvement in the project was the opportunity to learn about olives and to provide better cultivars to the olive growers in the Willamette Valley.

As it turns out, though olives originally come from the hotter, drier Mediterranean region, with a little help, they grow quite well in Oregon.

“Olives grow well in Oregon and produce fruit which bear a very good quality oil,” Bell said. “The origin of the species, Olea europaea, is the Mediterranean basin, where much of the world’s production occurs. It has been cultivated there for thousands of years and hundreds of cultivars exist, most of which are not available in North America.” More