Hot, Harsh Reality of the Drought

The Brushwoods olive grove is estimated to be around 17 years old and has been under our care since 2014.  It is fair to say that when we kicked off, we knew nothing and sourcing information about what to expect was really, really tricky.

I made myself a promise that if we were able to develop our own knowledge and gather information and data that we would willingly share it with anyone who approached us.  We have done exactly that which has been very rewarding.  The other benefit of this approach is that we have now built a five-year database of numbers for our own grove.

Planning is Paramount

One of the things that we do every year is to score all of our olive trees for the number of olives on them.  This helps us to prepare and plan for the upcoming harvest.  To score the trees we visually assess each tree on foot and record on a clipboard a score that indicates the number of olives on the tree.  We generally do this in January/February each year.

In 2018 when we scored the trees, we realised that everything was on track for a bumper harvest.  We still had plenty of time to organise a contract harvester because there was just no way that we were going to be able to hand pick all of those olives.  As it turned out conditions were so dry that we reckon we left half of our estimated 30 tonne yield on the trees as they were just too dry to pick, nevertheless, what we harvested was still a record yield for us.

On-years” and “Off-years

In 2018 we predicted that we would likely be in for a light harvest in 2019 – it just so happens that olive trees are quite well known for having a biennial or alternate bearing fruit pattern – that means, they fruit every second year.  If you look at the data in the table below you can see that the proportion of trees to harvest each year has a pattern: 46%, 90%, 47%, 87%.  On that basis we were expecting around 40-50% of trees to bear olives this year.  When we went out and scored the tree’s, the harsh reality of the drought hit home – only 10% of the trees have enough fruit to pick – that’s a huge drop from the predicted 40-50%!!

One of the biggest issues impacting on fruit volumes in our grove is the conditions at blossom set.  We had a super dry Winter and early Spring period which affected blossom and olive set.  No amount of rain can change that now – it’s the reality of mother nature’s effect on the production of food.  We don’t have the luxury of irrigation for our trees so we are 100% at the mercy of the weather.

Here’s a snapshot of the last 5 years of tree scoring, where a score 0 means there are no olives on the tree, score 1 = a very small number of olives (not enough to harvest), score 2 = enough olives to warrant picking, score 3 = the tree is laden with olives.  The numbers are percentages (i.e. in 2015 35% of trees had no olives on them).

 

 

2015

2016

2017

2018

2019

Score 0

35

0

33

3

81

Score 1

19

10

20

10

9

Score 2

35

30

38

117

7

Score 3

11

60

9

70

3

Trees to harvest

(score 2 and 3 combined)

46

90

47

87

10

So What Now?

As ugly as it is, there is no point to rock myself in a corner.  We now have the task of working out how to make the best of a bad (well actually a very bad) situation.  Normally we sell out of olive oil before Christmas each year.  However, we still have 13% (about 400 bottles) of our 2018 harvest bottled and ready for sale which probably isn’t a bad thing given the current situation.

We are currently predicting a total harvest yield of around 150 litres of oil – that’s just 300 bottles for 2019 (assuming we get some rain and the fruit matures).  It’s a difficult pill to swallow but we know that we have a very loyal customer base.  Whilst we will recommend that our customers support other Australian growers when our supplies are depleted, we also reckon they will be super excited when 2020 rolls around and we have a bumper yield again – yes I believe in the power of positive thinking (tee hee)!!  Anyway, all is not lost, we will keep you posted as we push closer to harvest which normally kicks off around Anzac Day.