These days, when visiting with clients, chefs, and friends, the question of how the harvest season is going is frequently asked. The answer: We are already in full gear milling olives, and it’s always an exciting time, but this year we’re facing a very difficult scenario. There’s a scarcity of olives and the price per ton (both the cost of the fruit and harvest) has increased as I have never seen before.
How did we come to this situation?
Let’s take a look at the multiple factors. This year, the main factor is weather. Olive trees need a significant dose of cold during the winter to ensure fruit production. In fact, the combination of chill during the wintertime and heat during our sunny, dry summers characterizes most of the olive growing regions in the world. Like California, these places enjoy a Mediterranean climate. Mediterranean-climate regions are rare. Only 2 to 3 percent of the world’s land surface is suitable for successfully growing olives. The olive tree can be grown in other climates, though it does not necessarily bear fruit.
This was the case when Roman legions tried to propagate and plant the tree in unsuitable climates (where they had success with grape vines instead), and the many attempts of the Spanish in the New World when they tried to grow olive trees in Mexico City. In addition to cold winters, another important season is spring, when flowering and fruit set occurs. If the winds are too warm and strong (as, again, it happened in some areas during 2014), the olive crop will suffer. To make matters worse, in the last year California has seen an increase in the main pest affecting olive trees, the olive fly. Most growers have taken careful measures to minimize its presence, though some orchards are still infested.
By no means are we trying to portray a catastrophic situation here. At the same time, as the severe drought reminds us collectively, agriculture has become more vulnerable and growing olives has been more difficult in the last years. Consequently, producers are seeing higher costs. With the industrialization of the food chain, we have lost touch with the natural cycles of food production. In our current culture, we expect these nature-related products to be immune to change. But they are not. As we know, adversity can hold opportunities, and the one I see here is that we will come to value and appreciate honest olive oil even more, along with understanding its real costs.
This broader picture will allow us to be more aware of how lucky we are to still having rather easy access to this great product. On our end, and despite all odds, we’re hard working to another great season of fine table olives and fine olive oil, and sharing the fruits of our labor with you. On behalf of the Pacific Sun Olive Oil team, Pablo