Home' Grower : April 2012 Contents The South Australian Grower -- April 2012
By MAX OPRAY
THE Australian olive
industry is fighting battles
on several fronts, up
against a high dollar, overseas
competition and bad publicity at
In response, producers want to
harness new growing methods and
market themselves better.
Olives Australia SA president
Richard Whiting says one new
option available to growers is
using super high-density
"With traditional groves,
you have very wide
spacings, which are
needed when you are
rain-fed," he said.
"We have mostly
which allows high-
density plantings on a much closer
spacing -- up to 450 trees a
"But there's another train of
thought overseas: super high-
density. It's been around six to
eight years, with about 1200
Mr Whiting says that to achieve
those results, so-called dwarf
varieties of olives are grown with
spacings almost as narrow as
Besides the benefit of more
trees, it allowed the use of smaller
But he is not entirely
convinced, pointing out that
the technique is very new.
"What happens at this
density when these trees
get older? Even at
are high," he said.
Australian Olive Association
executive officer Lisa Rowntree,
however, is sold on the idea. She
runs a traditional-spaced orchard
alongside a super high-density
olive grove at Coonalpyn together
with her husband.
Ms Rowntree concedes there are
some disadvantages, such as the
Super-high density groves
Huge savings on equipment
Code of Practice accredita-
AT A GLANCE
higher set-up costs with planting
so many trees, but believes that
reaching higher tonnage/ha
sooner is well worth it.
She claims the trees bear fruit at
a younger age, and is particularly
excited about being able to use
local vineyard equipment.
"We picked up a grape straddle
har vester for $50,000, where a
traditional grove straddle har vester
is close to $800,000. We could
get four of them and still be in
front," she said.
But with overseas competitors
enjoying a favourable exchange
rate, cheaper labour costs, less
regulation and heavy subsidies,
Australian olive oil is likely to
struggle in pure pricing terms.
The response from the local
industry has been to market itself
as a high-quality producer.
Last year, Standards Australia
introduced what it called the first
voluntary national standards for
olive oil labelling in the world.
The conditions are in line with
the AOA's Code of Practice, with
eligible brands now sporting a
triangular Australian Extra Virgin
Certified symbol (pictured).
A recent tabloid expose of
dodgy practices by a major South
Australian olive oil producer was a
big setback for the industry, but
the association has met the issue
head-on, putting a link to the
television program on its website.
Ms Rowntree said the particular
brand in question did not have
Code of Practice accreditation.
Bovalina Olive Oil Group
director Anthony Papalia said the
controversy would encourage
people to look for the new
symbol, but felt it was damaging
the industry overall.
Growers inspecting some of the harvesting machinery on display at the
Virginia field day.
Rogue traders hurt income
By ASHLEY WALMSLEY
ITALIAN mass-produced olive oil is
tainting the product's international
reputation, with Aussie growers
suffering collateral damage.
The observation comes from
American researcher Kathryn
Tomajan who is currently touring
Australian olive-growing districts
as part of her thesis on consumer
perceptions of olive oil quality.
Kathryn recently attended a two-
day olive growers' workshop in
Virginia, South Australia and plans
to visit the Moree region of New
South Wales, and areas of southern
Kathryn's research is through the
University of Gastronomic Science,
As a Californian native, she has
already toured areas of the United
State's budding olive industry
which she says currently only
supplies about 2 per cent of oil to
"Australia is producing much
more than the US is right now,"
On the Italian olive oil industry, she
said small producers were frustrated
by the reputation that Italian oil is
getting in the modern press.
"Smaller producers who are
doing things the right way are just
getting lost in it all," she said.
She points to Australia's attempts
at legislative changes and codes of
practice but says as voluntary
measures, they could only go so
"I think that it will come down to
consumer education," she said.
"Unless they can get
supermarkets and other importers
to abide by standards, it's really
going to be up to the consumer
making the choice."
Kathryn's next step in her
research will be to conduct an
electronic survey targeting chefs,
food industry workers and some of
the rising "foodies" who she says
have a keen interest in olive oil
quality but may not necessarily be
clear about what it takes to make
the high grades.
Kathryn's self-funded tour Down
Under has given her a positive
perception of the Australian olive
"The Australians are still young
to the industry but they are using
the modern way of producing," she
"The oil I have tasted here is
American researcher Kathryn Tomajan with George Atsalis, Eclipse
Enterprises, at the Olive Oil field day at Virginia.
• continued on page 16
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