Table olive industry members are looking to keep the crop competitive in California, with a push towards mechanization. Statewide Olive Extension Specialist Louise Ferguson explained that Musco Family Olive has developed a tree giveaway to help encourage the wider adoption of mechanization. Trees are being made available for growers willing to plant at what Ferguson describes as moderate densities.
“One hundred eighty to 220 trees to the acre that can be a combination of mechanically and hand pruned to have the kind of upright, stiff canopy, with a raised skirt that will accept both a trunk shaking harvester and a canopy contact harvester. So, they are being very forward-looking in helping develop orchards that will accept either harvester,” Ferguson noted. “I give them credit because they supported a lot of the research in terms of making orchards available to do research in.”
The industry has been looking into mechanical harvesters for a number of years. There has been some resistance to adapting older trees to the needs of mechanical equipment. However, several years of research have shown that increasing mechanization in orchards can be beneficial in the long run. “If we don’t have a weather event, we can average 4.5 to five tons per acre, per year, which is what you need,” Ferguson noted.
The table olive industry has been struggling to remain vibrant in California. Acreage has been steadily declining over the past 35 years as competition from other crops has increased. Already an off-year last year, the industry was also hit with inclement weather during bloom, creating further complications. There is hope that increasing the potential of mechanization in olive orchards can help the overall industry moving forward.
“This is a legacy industry in California. We are the world’s largest table olive market and we have the ability to produce them competitively given the soil water situation,” said Ferguson. “We’re going to go down fighting and hopefully we don’t go down.”