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Commodity of the future: Olive oil

San Joaquin County’s crop growing stronger every year; rivals France

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Posted: Wednesday, June 30, 2010 12:00 am

Just like the Arbequina olives in Mike Coldani’s Lodi orchard near Interstate 5 and Flag City, San Joaquin County’s future in olive oil production is growing stronger by the day. Five years ago, Coldani’s family started planting olive trees. They are part of a larger trend that is sweeping the county.

According to a recently released report from the San Joaquin County Agricultural commissioner, improved harvesting techniques have led to more acres of olives being planted around the county for olive oil production. San Joaquin County accounts for 35 percent of California’s olive oil-producing trees and ranks second in acreage devoted to the plants. The report estimates 10,000 trees each year will be added to the state’s olive orchards.

“This coming winter we will produce over 1 million gallons of olive oil unless there is a major crop failure,” said Patricia Darragh, executive director of the California Olive Oil Council. “Once we hit the 1 million gallon mark, we will pass France.”

Darragh was talking about olive oil production throughout California, but said a definite trend in visible in San Joaquin County. “It’s a pretty high-producing county and it’s growing so fast,” she said.

Growers like Coldani are at the forefront. On Tuesday afternoon he was walking up and down the rows at the orchard, checking the drip irrigation lines and paring back branches to control the growth of the six-foot-tall trees.

The olives, which bloomed a month ago, are slightly larger than pennies and will continue to grow on the trees until the November harvest.

“These are a high-density variety and they are immune to a lot,” he said.

The Arbequina olives can be vulnerable to diseases in the soil, such as Verticillium Wilt, Coldani said, especially if row crops like tomatoes were grown on the land before it.

“It gets drawn up through the soil into the trees,” he said.

He has seen it on his trees occasionally but has sprays that can eliminate it, he said.

The major pest growers need to be worried about, Darragh said, is the Olive Fruit Fly. However, the California Department of Food and Agriculture has approved organic pesticides growers can use to combat it.

“There are no major issues at this point,” she said.

The trees are resilient and don’t need much water once they are established, Coldani said. Coldani gets about three to four tons of olives per acre during harvest. Once the trees mature, they can last for decades.

“There are 100-year-old olive trees,” Coldani said.

Although he is unsure how long the Arbequina olive trees in his orchard will thrive, he said he expects them to last for another 20 to 35 years.

The biggest reason for the spike in olive trees being planted in San Joaquin County comes from the new methods for harvesting them, Coldani said.

Growers can use drip irrigation and grow the trees close together. When harvest comes, mechanized harvesters can roam the rows and save time, energy and money.

“We can get the olives off the trees and to the mill in a matter of hours,” Coldani said. “Before the olives could sit for a few days and basically start to ferment while they were waiting.”

The industry is on the rise, and there is no sign the trend in San Joaquin County will taper off anytime soon, Darragh said.

“We’re predicting for next decade it will continue to grow,” she said. “There is a lot of land available and we don’t see it dropping off.”

Contact reporter Jordan Guinn at jordang@lodinews.com.

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1 comment:

  • posted at 8:08 am on Wed, Jun 30, 2010.


    Nice story, Jordan! I was amazed when I saw "row" olive trees for the first time. They looked like an odd vineyard at first.



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