The 2020 California table olive harvest is wrapping up with significantly lower numbers than average. Bell-Carter Foods indicated that the latest harvest was well below the already conservative estimate for the crop. The harvest produced just over 20,000 tons, marking the second smallest harvest in the past ten years. The tonnage had initially been forecasted to be 30,000 tons. By comparison, the 2019 harvest brought in nearly 90,000 tons. Bell-Carter Foods is the largest domestic table olive producer and the second-largest in the world. In a press release, the company explained the “catastrophic table olive crop” was a result of a multitude of factors. A decline in acreage was noted as being the most significant.
“Faced with environmental challenges and increasing labor costs, growers are switching to more profitable crops, making the domestic market significantly less competitive and far more expensive compared to other global olive growing regions,” the company stated.
Tulare County olive farmer John Werner said increasing costs of production are problematic, but there is more to the story. The low numbers produced by the latest table olive harvest highlight a deeper issue within the industry. Two seasons ago Bell-Carter Foods canceled contracts on approximately 4,500 acres of Tulare County olives. The cancellation affected an estimated 450 growers and led to a further reduction of acreage.
“Had Bell-Carter/Dcoop maintained their relations with all their previous California growers, then the industry would have enjoyed a much higher harvest yield,” Werner noted. “Consumers are not aware that Bell-Carter/DCOOP is contributing to the demise of planted acres in California because they seek to supplant Californian grown olives with cheaper, inferior olives from places like Spain, Morocco, and Argentina.”
IMPORT RULES NEGATIVELY IMPACT CALIFORNIA GROWERS
The European conglomerate Dcoop acquired 20 percent ownership in Bell-Carter Foods in 2018. That allowed the company to ship olives to the U.S. for processing while avoiding tariffs on raw unprocessed olives. Bell-Carter Foods contends that the abysmal table olive harvest “underscores the necessity for Bell-Carter Foods’ recent strategic investment in a global sourcing model.”
“Bell-Carter/Dcoop has damaged the California olive industry and in doing so impacted consumer confidence. I believe consumers do prefer a Californian grown olive,” said Werner. “The international model from Bell-Carter/DCOOP guts consumer access to that Californian product and replaces with a label. That label lacks the integrity and quality of a domestic product.”