Oh dear. Frostbite.

  • Posted on: 8 June 2024
  • By: ibuchanan

We had a handshake deal to take the crop of an olive grove in Buckland Valley, as a Plan B when it was clear we would lose our own crop.

But the march of the Lace Bug continued, and Buckland Valley, a few kilometres east of us, was simply four weeks behind us, and their crop was similarly affected.

That grove has two stands of olives. The one I was interested in was small crushing olives of the corregiola variety. The other stand are nice olives, but are Hardy's Mammoth, a large round table olive. I didn't want them for oil. I don't know from experience, but what I have been told is that the normal yield for Hardy's Mammoth is spare...less than 3%. That is, 3 litres of oil for 100 kilos of olives. My estimates were at most 4 tonnes of olives from that grove, so maybe 120 litres of oil, at a cost of maybe $4k, putting the raw cost of the oil at $33 a litre! However, an academic research lists olive varieties and yields and says Hardy's Mammoth can return 15-20%. I think local knowledge trumps overseas research papers. If the research had included frantoio olives, which we have, and the numbers matched my experience I would have given more weight to the research paper.

The Hardy's Mammoth, although carrying a lace bug burden, and showing a lot of leaf damage, seemed to be were relatively unaffected as far as the olives went. But that was actually another red flag for me. My experience has been although the olives look ok, once the tree goes into decline the olives cease to accumulate oil, again leading to a reduced oil result.

All up it didn't look to be a likely success. So I said I wasn't interested in the Hardy's Mammoth.

Another olive grower, bigger than us, lost his crop ( 3000 trees, Whouroully, about 25 kilometres south of me), and came to a similar arrangement as the one I had...he would pay for the harvest, manage the result and pay a commission to the owner. But for the Hardy's Mammoth.

I had booked the corregiola harvest, but cancelled it when it was clear it would fail. That left two spare days in the harvest contractor's schedule, so I linked them up and they shifted things around.

Obviously the outcome was of great interest to me... If I was wrong I had missed to chance to keep us running for a few more months. (And, at the time, there were a few small places like that around here. It might have been possible to cobble together a crop by amalgamating their crops. As it turns out, that too would have failed as one by one they all succumbed to Lace Bug.)

So, last weekend I rang Tony up to see how the Hardy's Mammoth harvest went, and what sort of result he got.

They showed up at the olive grove on the day, and were dismayed to find all the olives had been hit hard by frost, and were rotting on the trees. Nothing to pick, no result other than to pay the contractor for his travel time. The contractor lost two days work. Everyone lost.

Over the last few years I have worked in Buckland Valley. Its close to here, but at a different angle to the base of Mount Buffalo. It seems as much as we are lucky here with frosts, Buckland is unlucky. I can't recall a year when they don't see frost damage to the later crops. We might have been ok with the smaller corregiola, but the lush, fat Hardy's Mammoth are pretty much a doomed crop in that location. At best I would think they should be picked green, early, before the frosts.