An expansion of the country’s olive groves and mostly favorable weather mean Australians expect an excellent harvest in 2022.
“After the drought of the previous year, the worst I’d ever seen, last year we had a record harvest of 140,000 tons of olives,” Michael Southan, chief executive director at the Australian Olive Association (AOA), told Olive Oil Times. “We do not expect to replicate that in the incoming season, but we are off for a good harvest indeed.”
The climate has always been the biggest challenge for the country’s olive farms, especially in recent years, as the devastating floods in New South Wales in 2021 followed an exceptional drought that already had affected most agricultural producers in Australia.
“The challenge is the weather’s extraordinary variability, as every year growers have to face opposite scenarios and need to adapt to extremes,” Southan said. “In the last couple of years, we have been lucky as we had good rainfall in many areas, and the weather has been substantially good for olive growth.”
In terms of volumes, the producing capacity shown by the sector in the last decades has been steadily growing.
“It has gone up for the last 20 years,” Southan said. “We can say the industry is 30 years old, so we went from practically zero 30 years ago to the last year’s record, with over 23 million litres produced, mostly extra virgin olive oil.”
AOA data from the last 10 harvests show olive production increasing from 14,500 tons in 2010-11 to almost 20,000 tons in 2014-15 and up to more than 22,000 tons in the last crop year. Even considering the alternate bearing nature of the olive tree, the average harvest has followed a significant positive trend in this period.
According to Australian farmers, most of the growth is due to a better understanding of the olive tree characteristics, learning more efficient pruning techniques and better soil and land management protocols. All of this allowed for better yields and more efficient protection of trees’ health.
“Most now know how relevant it is to apply good farming and sustainable techniques,” Southan said. “Think of practices like chipping pruning remains and nurturing the soil with the resulting compost; it enriches the soil of olive groves and is also a carbon farming technique. Olives are carbon positive.”
Over time, Australian olive growers have also learned which varieties do best in each of the country’s unique olive-growing regions.
“Growers are learning how to manage their orchards better. In the past, many olive groves were not as productive as they could have been, and that is changing,” Southan said. “They realized which cultivars perform better in their environment, so they started planting new varieties and pulling those that did not work for them.”
“By participating in olive oil competitions and gathering together to discuss challenges and opportunities, olive growers are increasingly finding new ways to improve their orchards,” he added. More