Drought, Regulations, and Olive Fruit Fly Affect Olive Crop
By Debra Morris, PCFMA
Several factors have affected this winter’s new olive oil crop – the olive fruit fly, the drought, and the new stricter grading and labeling regulations that took effect in September.
The drought brought in the harvest a week or so ahead of schedule, and the crop is expected to be a third smaller than previous years. The olive buds froze in the cold snap we had last December. The quality will still be very good and the first press should offer great flavor, according to some of the farmers’ market olive oil producers. Last fall, trees were trimmed back more severely than usual to lessen the amount of water they needed, thus leading to the smaller yield this year. Some smaller olive oil producers will not be bringing in their crop this year because they won’t have enough to press. They say that if we don’t get enough rain this winter and spring, next year will be a disaster for both small and large operations. Even though olive trees require less water than most tree crops, producers are still concerned about having enough water for irrigation.
Don Della Nina of Olio Bello d’Olivo says, “We usually pick around 18 tons of olives in a good year. This fall we only picked about 7 or 8 tons and it was a week or so earlier than normal. Some ranchers didn’t bother picking their olives at all.” He says he has two harvests per year, one in the fall of green olives that make a wonderful cooking oil with strong olive flavor and a bit of a peppery bite to it. His spring crop is from black olives that provides oil good for dipping and dressings, with a smooth finish and flavor.
The Olive Fruit Fly
With almost 100% of the commercial olives produced in the US grown in California*, the olive fruit fly can cause major devastation if not controlled. Olive oil producers use mostly integrated pest management techniques such as bait traps, and other biologic methods to control this pest. It is currently under control, but it is a constant battle to contain the pest. They nest in the slowly ripening fruit and can spread larvae that will ruin the entire crop of olives. Olio Bello d’Olivo hasn’t had any olive fruit fly problems, but he still puts out his own traps to make sure it stays that way.
The New Grading Regulations
New grading and labeling standards for olive oil took effect this September. These new standards require that producers of more than 5,000 gallons or more of olive oil test every batch of their extra virgin olive oil to ensure that it is not rancid, denatured, or mixed with other types of oils. In the California certification program, California producers submit their olive oil to the California Olive Oil Council (COOC) for sensory evaluation, where a panel of certified tasters conducts a blind tasting, chemical analysis, and rigorous lab testing to confirm that acidity levels and other aspects of the oil are on target. If the oil passes certification the producers earn the right to display the COOC seal. Purchasing olive oil with the COOC stamp of approval means you are buying fresh, California grown, 100% extra virgin olive oil.
Don says, “Customers should ask to see this analytical lab report when they buy California olive oil. The acidity can’t exceed .5% in California – ours usually runs at the .1% to .2% level. Our sales success is due to our transparency about what’s in our oil.”
The new regulations eliminate confusing labels like “light,” and “pure,” adulterated versions of real olive oil. Both of these must now be labeled as “refined” oils. And with these new regulations it is expected to give California olive oil producers a competitive edge because of the expectation of quality oils labeled properly.
This article is provided in conjunction with PCFMA’s ongoing “Brown is the New Green” program to increase awareness of the effects of drought on farmers and the public.