Q&A: Dishing on Mother Nature
With the drought and El Niño all over the news, we wondered how the two were affecting the olive crops—so we checked in with three local growers. Turns out, 2014 just wasn’t the olives’ year. But overall, the trees are pretty darn resilient.
Q: The 2014 olive harvest was notoriously bad in California. What role did the drought have in the woeful harvest?
Philip Asquith of Ojai Olive Oil: 2014 was the worst harvest in California history, but not due to water issues. It was due to abnormally high temperatures during the winter. Most fruit and nut trees need a certain number of “chill hours” over the winter, and when they don’t get them, there is no fruit. Warming climates are more of a threat to our olives than drought.
Jeff Luttrull of Regalo Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Ojai: Olives are cyclical. In 2014, there were no olives on the West Coast. This year is a little better. Next year may be big, but not because of rain or drought.
Q: Olives are usually harvested during the fall and into winter. We’ve heard that this year they were about a month early due to the heat. Is that correct?
PA: Each year the harvest in California is moving forward by an average of one week, as the climate warms. If it keeps going this way, eventually the olive trees could stop producing altogether.
Mark Mooring of Buon Gusto Farms, Ventura: Yes, correct; the fruit ripened quicker.
Q: How has the drought affected the 2015 harvest?
JL: It has not affected them. Our trees are mature with deep roots. Olive trees grow in deserts. They are extremely drought tolerant.
MM: The trees are still in recovery mode from last year. This year did well, but it was not a full crop.
Q: What could happen to next year’s crop if we have an El Niño year with a lot of rain?
PA: Shouldn’t have much of an effect. The only concern is that if there are hard rains when the blooms are on the trees, it can knock some of them off, resulting in a lighter harvest.
MM: The trees will be happy and we won’t need to water. If the weather pattern is stable the crop should be OK.