Many Australians picture the beautiful olive groves throughout Mediterranean areas such as Spain, Italy and Greece, and dream of planting olives and making a fortune. Australia does have the potential to develop a successful olive industry, but there are some enormous downside risks. Olives, both for oil and table, are an international commodity, so it is important to plant the right varieties for world markets, in the right areas of Australia. Olive expert Susan Sweeney advises people not to get excited, rush in and plant their first crops without spending at least a year doing research, selecting and ordering varieties, and preparing to plant.
Selecting the best varieties
There are around 100 known varieties of olives in Australia, and there are new varieties becoming available which have been bred specifically for intensive cultivation. Olive producer Joe Grilli showed Don his experimental olive grove, which is aimed at developing varieties with a suitable growth habit for a mechanical ‘grape-type’ harvester.
Susan Sweeney believes mechanisation is essential for an economically viable industry. Currently olives are hand-picked, or hand-picked with the aid of machines that shake the tree, comb the limbs or vibrate the trunk.
Good oil varieties
‘Barnea’ ‘Frantoio’ ‘FS 17’ ‘Mission’ (WA)
Good table varieties
‘Hardy’s Mammoth’ ‘Hojiblanca’ ‘Kalamata’ ‘Manzanillo’ ‘Sevillano’
Olives do best in a Mediterranean climate with a hot, dry summer and a cool, wet winter.
They need winter chilling (temperatures between 1.5°C and 18°C with a long hot summer) for good ripening. Many areas of Australia, particularly South Australia, have a perfect olive-growing climate. In fact olives grow so well in South Australia that they have become weeds. This feral olive population has been identified as having superior oil yield and quality characteristics, and it is hoped that they may be used to develop unique varieties which Australia can market to the world.
The money tree?
Gourmet food expert Simon Johnson thinks that we should be thinking about olive oil in terms of a global market, and producing extra virgin oil for the international market. (Virgin olive oils are obtained from the fruit without using chemical extractants or excess heat, so that the characteristics of the oil are preserved.) Simon is concerned about the ‘goldrush mentality’ of some olive enthusiasts, and worries that they will ‘lose their shirts’. In Australia and overseas countries like Argentina, millions of olive trees have been planted, and when they start producing supply will exceed demand and the price of oil will fall. Joe Grilli is more optimistic, and draws strong parallels to the grape/wine industry. He thinks that if the olive industry is based on a quality end product, i.e. an excellent extra virgin olive oil, it has a very bright future.
For more information contact your local agriculture department or the Australian Olive Association. The Australian Olive Association website has links to other organisations and to its quarterly publication, ‘The Olive Press’ www.australianolives.com.au
Primary Industries, SA
We filmed the processing of table olives at Verdale Olive Estate, Virgina, SA
Simon Johnson Purveyor of Quality Foods (see below)
Olive oil producer & winemaker
Primo Estates, Virginia, SA
Joe Grilli’s ‘Joseph’ brand olive oil is available from gourmet food shops, including:
Simon Johnson Purveyor of Quality Foods
181 Harris Street Pyrmont, 2009
Phone (02) 9552 2522 or freecall 1800 655 522; fax (02) 9660 0060
Hours: Monday to Saturday 9am-5pm
55 Queen Street,Woollahra, 2025
Phone (02) 9328 6888; fax (02) 9328 6833
Hours: Monday to Friday 10am-6pm/ Saturday 9am-5pm/ Sunday 10am – 4pm.
12 – 14 Saint David Street, Fitzroy, 3065
Phone (03) 9486 9456; fax (03) 9486 9897
Hours: Monday to Friday 9.30am – 4.30pm/ Saturday 9am – 5pm
Black Pearl Caviar
Foods of Quality & Distinction
36 Baxter Street, Fortitude Valley, 4006
Phone (07) 3257 2144; fax (07) 3257 2044
Hours: Monday to Friday 8.30am – 5pm; Saturday 10am – 4pm
Lamont’s Food & Wine
Shop 1, 125 St George’s Terrace, Perth, 6000
Phone (08) 9321 9907; fax (08) 9321 9908
Hours: Monday to Friday 10am – 8pm