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Report for Oliveti newsletter May 2013

by Kay McKelvie

Given Northland has experienced one of the driest summers for 70 years, and we had a less than ideal climate for fruit set, I thought it would be worthwhile checking with our members whether there were any changes to our normal healthy high yielding olive crops.


John Bishop of The Olive Grove in Kerikeri had this to say;
“For many years we have heard of " Catastrophic Crop Failures" - well this year the Far North came as close to that as we would ever want. It wasn't just restricted to the olives - other tree crops suffered as well.


Many well established olive groves had little or no crop at all, and often those that did had such sporadic fruit set as to make any economical picking near impossible. It was in simple terms a nightmare come true for a lot of us.


There are many coastal groves dotted around the Kerikeri inlet and up to Cape Karikari who have had year in year out  2 - 8 tonnes of fruit. This year 2 groves I have worked with for many years dropped from just under 4.5 tonnes last year to 285kgs combined! There are simply dozens of stories just like this.


The best indicator of the enormous impact on the industry is how little crop has been pressed in our area. Pressing times were slashed to 2 or maybe 3  short days a week. I believe it has been much better South of Whangarei.” 

One grower from Kerikeri I spoke to has had a slightly better experience this year and has a bigger crop (J5 and Koroneiki) and a higher yield, although still only reaching 15% when picking at the end of May.


Coming south of Whangarei I  spoke to Greg Scopas of Salumeria Fontana, a pressing house in Wellsford. His comments pointed to a season that was notable for its inconsistencies. Olives that appeared ripe, weren’t, regardless of whether they were picked late April, or mid May, or the end of May. Yields appear to be variable and ranged from 6% to 22.5% with on average of 5-10% less on the same varieties, same groves, as last year.


Ross Legh of   The Olive Place, also in Wellsford, has a different story;

“This year’s processing is still in full swing, harvest quantities from the well managed groves where the fruit has not been affected by Anthracnose is significantly up on 2012.

We have been running the press every day since the 14th April, and  on some days up to 20 hours, it is a record, the oil yields are also amongst the best we have seen. Some yields are over 25%, even the Leccino from some groves has returned 17+%.


We anticipate the quality of oils also to be improved and reflect the dryer summer we have all experienced. Typically growers are harvesting too early in the district, this is reflected by the increase in oil yields as the season progresses.”


ONZ May newsletter states “In several regions the best yield so far has been 23% but with an average of 16-18%.” This seems reasonably comparable to others comments.

Kerry Hart of Azzuro Groves on Waiheke confirmed that for Waiheke the volume of olives was generally much lower but the yield was up and the quality of the oil excellent. Yield did not seem particularly dependent on timing of pick and their first batch of Koroneiki on 6th April yielding 23.5% with the yield at their press ranging from 16-25%


Some say these inconsistencies over the region are a combination of 3 or 4 bad events during flowering and subsequent fruit set. Others blame the poor spring weather patterns.


Philip Baker, a grower located at Whangarei Heads, commented “I am sure that weather at pollination time was the vital factor this year. I remember that we had perfect weather for a week at the peak of frantoio flowering & this came after some poor weather which would have hit the far north. The fruit set on our frantoio was very good, though less good on other trees, which probably did not pollinate as much during that 'golden' week. Our frantoio yield was 20%+, Leccinos were much poorer at around 12%. Picual was even worse and hard to get to 10%. Obviously that isn't related to pollination.”


For myself I wonder if our trees have got used to wet feet and noticed the drought over the summer. Olive trees adapt to the conditions they are planted into and if we artificially alter that then we need to keep that up. For example if you irrigate then you need to keep irrigating all the time, so it stands to reason that an unusually dry period will affect our volumes of fruit.


Whatever the cause it will pose some major headaches as to how you continue to satisfy all or some of your customers for those whose yield was low. Other growers who have had a reasonably good crop will perhaps want a better price than normal for bigger litre-age of EVOO.


Whatever your particular story we hope you have learnt more from the process and you and your customers are now beginning to enjoy the Olio Novello.


Kay McKelvie

021 959 203

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