From: Florida Olive Council
The Florida Olive
The olive (Olea europaea L.) grows in Florida. In the above photo, a healthy, blooming 4 year old olive tree overlooks the site of the Spanish landing in 1565 at St. Augustine. Many more olive trees thrive throughout Florida. Like much of the olive-friendly Mediterranean basin, Florida has sandy, well-drained soils, lots of sun and generally sufficient rainfall. There are reports of producing olive groves in the 1700s near Daytona Beach and a reported “35-foot bearing olive tree” was documented near Tampa in the 1920s. Today, there are roughly 300 acres of olive trees growing across Florida tended by several dozen amateur and professional growers.
While olive production in Florida is only starting, indications for a successful olive industry look promising. Don Mueller has 400 olive trees near Marianna, FL (Jackson County) and has been selling olives and making oil for more than 15 years. Several commercial high density olive groves (500 trees/acre) have been established in the last two years in Florida with more under development. Small farmers are also establishing groves and many backyard hobbyists are trying their hand at olive cultivation. Two new Florida olive mills have been established.
However, while olive trees grow in Florida, much about their long-term fruit production is unknown. Questions about the availability of sufficient cool weather, the effects of excessive rainfall during bloom periods, the impact of native pests and other issues are of concern.
Richard Williams unfurls his long, sturdy frame from a tractor and begins a stroll through 20 acres of olive groves at his farm in Volusia County, Florida. His in-laws, the Ford/Veech family, has spent six generations farming in Florida, and has a more than 50-year-old citrus grove.
Williams checks the leaf structure to see which of the 11,160 olive trees are giving fruit. He has a lot riding on the Florida Olive Systems, Inc., project that is being funded by the Ford/Veech family.
“Planting olives is not for the faint of heart by any stretch of the imagination. This is so new that we are learning every day,” said Williams, whose wife Lisa helps run Florida Olive Systems, Inc. “But it’s a new opportunity to reinvent ourselves after catastrophic losses to citrus greening.”
Williams’s in-laws has been growing citrus for decades, part of the $10.7 billion industry that has helped define Florida as the Sunshine State. Yet, the onset of citrus greening disease decimated farms throughout the state, causing approximately $7.8 billion in lost revenue, 162,200 citrus acres and 7,513 jobs since 2007, according to researchers with the University of Florida Institute for Food and Agricultural Sciences.
After conducting his own research on the viability of growing olives in Florida, Williams visited Texas, Georgia and California, which have a history of growing high-density olives. Also, he and other growers invited experts from Italy, Spain and Greece to visit Florida and discuss the olive industry.