Farmers in New Zealand Optimistic Ahead of Harvest

Olive growers in New Zealand expect good results from the coming harvest season.

Local farmers confirmed that fruits are already dotting the trees in most groves, and this year’s harvest appears to be larger than the previous two.

It would be the third year in a row production has increased. About 200,000liters were produced in the 2019-20 crop year, with 270,000liters produced in 2020-21.

However, the expected growth does not surprise local experts since the weather has been favorable in recent months.

Small local growers also continue to learn more about preventing disease and overcoming challenges, resulting in growing yields.

“The managing of most olive groves is improving year over year,” Gayle Sheridan, Olives New Zealand’s executive officer, told Olive Oil Times. “We just had a field day with growers and witnessed the efforts that many have put into maintaining their groves, optimal pruning and caring for the health of their trees.”

During the biannual field days, the association visits olive groves in all the major growing areas of the country.

Some growers in New Zealand are focusing on adopting a harvest schedule that might enhance the polyphenol and antioxidant content of their extra virgin olive oils.

“It is an interesting phenomenon; analyses show how those contents are more present in local extra virgin olive oil as the consumers have also started to understand how beneficial they can be for their health,” Sheridan said.

To enhance the health profile of their oils, some growers are actively studying farming techniques that might improve the quantities of the healthy contents.

“They do not want to limit their activity to an early harvest, which usually ensures a good quantity of polyphenols; they are also investigating what other measures can be adopted,” Sheridan said. “It is an area for us that is quite new.”

The types of olive trees planted in New Zealand, most of which come from Greece, Italy, Japan and Spain, can also help farmers increase the number of healthy compounds in their oils.

“Frantoio is the most planted variety in the country,” Sheridan said, but Picual, Picholine, Pendolino, Kalamata and Koreneiki trees are also common.

“We do have a New Zealand variety known as J5, but we think it might have been derived from Frantoio as it looks like Frantoio,” Sheridan said.

Identifying the olive varieties that could better adapt to New Zealand’s specific climate has required time and effort for local growers.

Stuart Tustin, a tree fruit physiologist and plant and food researcher, told Olive Oil Times that “in the 70s and the 80s, many (farmers) planted varieties coming from Middle Eastern countries such as Israel.”

“But those trees did not adapt well to these latitudes,” he added. “Now, with most European cultivars, growers are seeing way more interesting yields.”

For its 300 olive farms growing 350,000 trees over 2,130hectares, the New Zealand harvest season starts in April in the north and progressively moves south, where it should end by early August.

“Growers now know that they have to harvest at the right time and that the full crop has to be harvested not to have consequences on the following season,” Sheridan said.

She added that olive growers in the country produce exclusively extra virgin olive oil.

“Last year, we got 98 percent extra virgin olive oil,” Sheridan said.

Local extra virgin olive oil quality gets tested by specialized labs in Australia following International Olive Council’s protocols and standards for extra virgin olive oil.

The Olives New Zealand Association also releases the OliveMark trademark, which producers can adopt and show on their certified extra virgin olive oil containers. The goal of the trademark is to instill a sense of trust between the customers and producers. More