Thriving industry with strong tradition

OLIVES and olive oil are starting to become big business throughout Australia.

This country currently imports about $110 million worth of olive oil products (mostly oil) each year, with domestic production about 3 per cent of this figure.

The industry is growing rapidly, due to the product’s well-advertised health benefits, the changing face of cuisine, and the commercial applications.

So rapid have plantings of olive trees been that orders for about 7000 hectares worth of trees have been placed with nurseries nationwide. As a result of this frenzied planting it is hard to get a figure on current total production. In 1998 the total area in Australia was 5000ha. Today, that figure would have easily tripled.

Olive trees can be grown in many areas in the south and east of Western Australia. As a general rule, climatic conditions are quite similar to those along the Mediterranean coastal strip – the home of the olive.

With world demand for olive oil and table olives increasing, there is enormous opportunity for growers.

There are, however, several factors to consider before getting out the spade.

Olive trees can produce fruit for more than 1000 years (such as trees in the Middle East) but you will not get fruit from your trees for about three or maybe four years.

Olive production has a relatively high establishment cost and lengthy payback period. Depending on the scale of your grove, the break-even period can be anywhere from seven to 11 years.

There are now a number of very good olive oil producers in WA and the numbers will continue to increase over the next few years.

The industry in Australia is now in full swing, with official oil tasting shows awarding medals to international standard olive oils.

Stella Ridge in Margaret River has won a number of awards already, as have Chestnut Grove and Forest Grove farms. The future certainly looks bright for olive groves in WA.

Here is what a few of Western Australia’s growers are doing.

2 Bryant Avenue

Mosman Park

9383 1141

Talbot Grove is found about 20km south-west of York and has about 6000 trees, which were planted over a three-year period, beginning in 1997. Talbot Grove has three different varieties planted – nevadillo blanco, frantoio, and manzanilla. Frederik Von Altenstadt said they picked their first crop last year and squeezed out about 87 litres from the manzanilla olive trees. This year they have picked about two thirds of their olives and have 600L of oil thus far. Talbot Grove only produces oil and does not sell any olives for pickling. You can find Talbot Grove oil in The Grocer in Nedlands, Galileo Books in York and Supa Valu in Kelmscott.

Gingin Heritage Estate

PO BOX 285 Gingin

9575 1107

The Gingin Heritage Estate is a small olive grove in Gingin with about 4500 olive trees, including kalamata (which is produced for table olives), manzanilla, picual, WA mission and frantoio. Maggie Edmonds said they were the first commercial venture in the Gingin region, which is now the biggest olive growing area in WA, with three of the ‘prospectus groves’ now established and a new large grove being planted by Fini Olives.

A few other small groves also are being established in the region, with about 25,000 trees. Maggie is very passionate about olives and organised the first WA Olive Festival in Gingin last March. The date for next year’s festival already has been set – March 9 and 10 2002.

Keeping herself busy until then won’t be a problem, as Maggie also is helping establish the Moore River Olive Association, which basically evolved from the Gingin Regional Olive Growers.

Bentwood Olive Grove

PO Box 382 Geraldton

9926 1196

Bentwood is to be found just south of Geraldton, in Greenough, and first planted trees in 1996. Beth Seivenpiper said they had 2000 trees, comprising New Norcia mission, frantoio and barnea, plus a few pickling varieties such as kalamata and barouni. Beth says they have been producing oil for three years, with this year’s brew a frantoio-mission blend, which she says is superb.

Initial concerns about the region not being cold enough proved unfounded.

To keep busy while the olives ripen, Beth has introduced a range of gourmet foods, including local sun-dried roma tomatoes packed in olive oil, tapenade and, new this year, chilli garlic chutney.

You can get Bentwood Olives directly from the property.

Catholic Agriculture College Bindoon

C/-Post Office Bindoon

9576 1040

I think I want to go back to school – how’s this for an option to take up. All year 11 and 12 students have an opportunity to get involved in the college’s olive grove. Set up as a joint venture between the college and Fulcrum Enterprises, the olive grove on the property at the college has been rejuvenated over the past four years and this year will produce about 200L.

With about 450 trees dating back to 1948, the college has some of the more mature trees in WA. The main varieties include verdale and queen of Spain and the college has direct extra virgin olive oil and eating olives available.

If you are thinking of setting up your own olive grove, Merrich Estate in the Swan Valley has invited all-round olive guru and chairperson of the South Australia Olive Growers Association, Linda Costa, to speak on a range of olive topics. Linda is a wealth of knowledge and experience. If you are interested in registering for this event on June 10, contact Shirley Richardson on 9296 0750.

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