SHD olives making ag mark

A recently completed survey of California’s super-high-density olive sector, prepared by the University of California, Davis, Olive Center, shows the industry well positioned to develop olive oil into a major state agricultural commodities in the coming years.

“Super-high density,” or SHD, refers to the relatively new practice of dramatically increasing olive trees’ planting density.

“The SHD olive sector has achieved impressive growth in just a decade,” says Dan Flynn, executive director of the Olive Center.

Key Points

• Glenn and San Joaquin counties had the most SHD acreage.

• Statewide average SHD planting density was 662 trees per acre.

• The Arbequina variety, native to Spain, was the most often planted.

Trend shift

The survey found that 12,127 acres of super-high-density olive trees were planted in California as of the end of 2008, with 78% of the acreage planted between 2005 and 2008.

The survey, mailed to 69 SHD olive growers across California, found that Glenn and San Joaquin counties dominated in terms of planted acreage. Glenn County had 4,227 acres, or 35% of the state’s total SHD olive plantings; San Joaquin County had 3,713 acres, or 31%. They were followed by Butte County, with 1,128 acres, or 9% of the total.

Survey results

• The Arbequina, native to Spain, was the olive variety most commonly planted in the SHD system, accounting for 78% of the state’s acreage.

• Planting densities ranged from 453 trees per acre to 908 trees per acre, with a statewide average density of 662 trees per acre.

• 2008 was the first year of harvest for 13% of the responding growers, and 69% of the respondents had not yet harvested as of the fall of that year.

• Growers who had harvested reported that the first day of harvest ranged between Oct. 10 and Oct. 29, median olive yield was 4 tons per acre and median olive oil yield was 40 gallons per ton.

• Almost all SHD growers used drip irrigation, with 64% of them relying on well water to irrigate their orchards, 24% using irrigation district water and 10% using surface water.

• Less than half of the respondents provided information on how much irrigation water they used. Among those who did provide information, the average annual water use for SHD olive plantings was 21 inches per year.

The report is online at www.olivecenter.ucdavis.edu.

Reasons to plant

Favorable income potential” was cited by 62%, followed by “low production costs” (14%), “reduced water usage” (8%), “diversity” (8%), and “other” (8%). Those that answered “other” identified “low labor input,” “low maintenance,” “best use of land,” “good product,” “experiment,” and “attractive” as their reasons for planting SHD olive trees.

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OLIVE HEDGE: Olive trees trellised usign the SHD method eventually resemble a hedge. This hedge is able to be mechanically harvested, which dramatically decreases production costs.

This article published in the March, 2010 edition of CALIFORNIA FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.