In 2020 national olive oil production was only 25 to 30 per cent of average production levels. A year later the industry is looking at what could be its best harvest yet - despite wet weather issues plaguing some growers.
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Australian Olives Association president Michael Thomsett said the industry had seen three years of declining production during the drought - a scarcity of oil leading to wholesale prices rising by close to 20 per cent at the end of last year.
This year has seen good volumes overall, although oil percentages per olive were down from the normal 20pc to the mid-teens, with some growers harvesting earlier than optimal given the threat of frost or disease.
"In parts of NSW there were issues with wet weather - difficulty in access, disease in susceptible varieties and some instances where the olives were too wet and didn't take up the calcium, creating a condition called soft-nose, particularly in table olives," Mr Thomsett said.
"There's also been isolated frost damage at some farms."
Jerilderie growers the Rorato family of Olive Oil Australia said they luckily haven't experienced many set-backs this season and are well into their two month harvest.
Tanya Rorato said drought had had a far larger impact on supply than COVID had on demand last year.
"I could have sold our crop three times over last year, everyone was so short of oil," Ms Rorato said.
This year the Roratos are hoping to produce 300,000 litres of olive oil from their 100,000 olive trees.
The family-run business have their own processing plant and ship oil in 1000 litre intermediate bulk containers to customers who package it for supermarkets, high-end restaurants and wholefood brands.
Ms Rorato said the olives kept them busy year-round but obviously harvest was their peak period and they have around 12 people employed for the duration.
The olives are picked with a mechanical shaker and are transported to the processing shed where they are crushed and the oil is separated before being stored in large 20,000 litre vats
Lou Rorato started with olives back in 2000 on the advice of an agronomist who said compared to the tomatoes they were growing, olives would be low maintenance, disease resistant and didn't require much water.
"Which is all good in theory," Ms Rorato laughed.
They use roughly three megalitres of water a year on their olives, but balancing the water requirements and yield can be a tricky equation.
"In 2019 we went a bit tight with the water and it impacted our yield," Ms Rorato said.
"So last season we bought more water, which increased our costs and cut into our profit margin but our yield's improved."
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