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Bumper Olive Oil Harvest Bittersweet

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May 2011 Cover Story

It looks and sounds like the perfect farming venture. Low water requirements, virtually no maintenance and watch your trees grow, each year providing increasing yield.

Cycil Sauzier of Kara Australis, Gingin has over 30 years running farms in Zimbabwe from tobacco, coffee, cattle and wheat says “what he loves most about olives is they offer a low risk crop, free from most diseases and most importantly weather doesn’t effect me”.

But it is not all good news, some 8 years ago when thousands of trees were planted in the region, forecasts of $7/litre were the basis of business models. Today the strong aussie dollar, particularly against the euro, has pushed prices down to lows of $3/litre.

Bittersweet news when you consider our region is on track for a bumper harvest with most irrigated groves reporting their best year. In fact the low rainfall has even been kind as lack of rain doesn’t bring disease pressure.

Harvesting generally starts April through to May, the earlier the olives are picked the more robust the flavour, as Cyril Sauzier points out, award winning oils don’t sell so sometimes it pays to wait.

Cyril has 200 acres with 13,000 trees on 150 acres, he will selectively harvest around 10,000, using the mechanical shaker, which will deliver about 200 tonnes, yielding around 40,000 litres of olive oil. Cyril has designed an efficient grove, his olive spacing allows him to use a mechanical shaker, paying only for those trees he picks. His processing facility also allows him to supplement income by providing processing and bottling services for other farmers. Kara Australis is sold through a distributor to retailers and restaurants but also sold as bulk oil.

Like many farm activities it seems you need to achieve a critical mass. Cyril suggested a minimum of 10,000 trees are necessary, and “good rich soil with water certainly helps”.
Whether olive groves will be a profitable agricultural pursuit in the region in the long term is unknown. What is for certain is they’ll be here long after us, the oldest olive tree in Portugal, is calculated to be 2000 years old.

Extra virgin olive oils can be intensely flavoured and can also be strongly pungent. Many ‘early harvest’ styles often fit in this category. Others can be very fruity with only hints of bitterness and pepper, while ‘late harvest’ styles are typically mild with very ripe fruity flavours.

“Extra virgin olive oil is oil that has never been through a refining process and is acknowledged to be superior due to its taste and health benefits.

The extraction of oil from olives is a relatively straightforward process, involving only a few critical steps. Australian extra virgin olive oil producers know that if they use good quality olives, process them quickly after picking, employ the services of a spotlessly clean processing plant and don’t strive for excessive extraction, quality extra virgin olive oil will result.