I am getting a lot of calls and emails about growing olives. I knew that they would have problems in Williamson County but the only expert is one who lives over 100 miles away! This why i asked Jim Kamas, Extension Fruit Specialist to write this:
Thoughts on Growing Olives
by Jim Kamas----
I frequently receive inquiries about the feasibility of growing olive trees in Texas but to be honest, I am aware of nobody growing olives on a commercial scale that are making the numbers work economically.
Olives are a Mediterranean crop. We have a continental climate not a Mediterranean climate. While deciduous fruit trees set fruit buds in response to a high carbohydrate to nitrogen ratio during the previous summer, olives set flower buds in response to constant diurnal temperature fluctuation during the winter months, typical to those in the Mediterranean region. Across central Texas, we get those conditions about one in seven years, so consistent fruiting does not happen in the Hill Country or South Texas.
Olives are also quite cold sensitive. Most varieties are commonly frozen to the ground with temperatures of 15-16 degrees Fahrenheit. So, when olives are planted far enough north where they receive temps conducive for fruiting, the winter kill. When they are planted far enough south to not winter kill, they do not reliably set fruit buds.
Olive trees frequently start fruiting in the fifth or sixth leaf, but they mature when they are 40 years old. Classical literature suggests that olive groves were only planted during times of extended peace because destroying an enemy's olive grove had repercussions that lasted generations.
Ok, sure there are olive plantings around that have had some fruit, but I believe that are none that are profitable from a strictly production point of view. I find no romance in losing propositions. If people want to plant them for ornamental value or just for aesthetic value, sure, plant them, but I think commercial plantings are not a good idea. The ONLY people making money in the olive business is the people selling olive trees or who are bottling and selling imported oil.
In addition to the above mentioned limitations olive trees are very susceptible to two soil borne pathogens- Post Oak Root Rot (Armallaria mellea) and Cotton Root Rot (Phymatotricum omnivorum). Both of these pathogens are problematic across much of Texas and we have no chemical or biological control agents that have been proven effective in perennial crops.
Sorry for the less than glowing report, but it is my opinion that it is better to know the obstacles up front than after the fact. Now, I am not a popular person among the olive growing community for my position. I am not trying to rain on their parade or suppress the growth of an industry. I had one large olive grower report to me how many gallons of olive oil they pressed this past season. Let’s look at the cash flow statement and see if their revenues service the debt on this investment.
Olives are a beautiful crop and I understand why they are so attractive to so many small farming operators. My only message is to do your scientific and economic homework and make your decisions wisely after due consideration.
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- Bob Whitney
- As an Agriculture Extension Agent for Texas AgriLife Extension Service I have had an opportunity to be involved in just about every aspect of agriculture. From the 5,000 cow dairy to the types of trees to use in a home landscape I have had a chance to learn how the different parts of an agriculture systems work together. Seedless watermelons, drip irrigation, pecan orchard management, fruit crop development, dairy nutrient management, environmental issues confronting agriculture, producer tours, field days, research projects and more have been a part of my life for over 30 years as I lived and breathed agriculture. Since 2004 I have been actively involved in consulting internationally working in Honduras, Guatemala, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, India, and China. I have worked with missionaries and other groups dedicated to alleviating poverty among third world farmers. I lived in the Middle East in 2007-2008 working on a project for the Borlaug Institute of International Agriculture at Texas A&M University. In this project I was the Chief of Party and Team Leader for a $5.7 Million dollar effort to train Iraqi Extension agents and specialists in all aspects of agriculture.