Bumper harvest as producers celebrate best crop in a decade

The good oil: Gerard Healy, farm manager at Boundary Bend’s Boort estate in north-west Victoria, examines his trees. Photo: Luis Enrique AscuiPlenty of summer sun and hardly any autumn rain left the limbs of Margi Kirkby’s trees in Moree sagging with plump olives by harvest time in March.
Shanghai night field

Now, with each of her 95,000 trees cleaned of olives, Ms Kirkby, of Gwydir Grove in the state’s north-west, can safely proclaim 2013 a bumper year. Her groves yielded 170,000 litres of extra virgin olive oil, up 70 per cent on last year’s figure.

”This year was definitely good and last year was no doubt bad,” she said. ”The olives don’t like a wet harvest because the rain washes the flavour out. It was dry this time around.”

Stories of bountiful crops are being echoed by olive farmers across Australia, with NSW producers on track to hit 1.1 million litres of olive oil this month.

An unprecedented 19 million litres of olive oil is expected to be squeezed from this year’s national harvest, which ends this month, nearly double last year’s effort of 10.5 million litres, the Australian Olive Association said.

Rob McGavin, co-founder of Cobram Estate, Victoria’s leading olive oil producer, is celebrating bumper crops after two disastrous years of heavy rain and flooding, which at one point forced him to navigate groves spread across 6500 hectares in the Murray Valley in a rowboat.

This year’s crop is the best he has seen in a decade, both in size and quality, he said. ”We have enjoyed perfect sunny days and cool nights during the season, and amazing growing conditions for our olives.”

Mr McGavin, who is also a director of the Australian Olive Association, expects Victoria to lift its production from 5.5 million litres last year to 14 million litres, after seeing his trees bear twice as much fruit.

NSW is Cobram Estate’s biggest market, he said. ”Our olive oil is simply just from squeezing the fruit, just like a freshly squeezed orange juice,” he said.

”Olive oil should smell fresh, like cut grass. If it’s anything old like oil, like cheese, that’s bad. It should leave your mouth clean, not leave your mouth oily,” he said.

Steve Goodchild, owner of Pukara Estate in the Hunter Valley, labelled his harvest of 380 tonnes as ”average”. He began machine harvesting in mid to late April when the fruit became just over 20 per cent oil.

”Our fruit ripened early and there was no rain over harvest – it was great,” he said. ”Olives are quite prone to having an off and on year and this year the cycle is on the better side.

”The Hunter produces milder … less pungent oils. So, again, timing is crucial when managing the harvesting window.”

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.