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Victoria could become olive capital of Texas, growers say

By ALLISON MILES
April 25, 2013 at 10:03 p.m.
Updated April 25, 2013 at 11:26 p.m.

Workers dump freshly harvested picual olives into a bin that empties into the oil press. During the harvest, they pick about 10 tons of olives daily and can process 1.5 tons per hour.

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For more information about Texas Olive Ranch, visit TexasOliveRanch.com.

Victoria could be on its way to becoming the olive capital of Texas, some in the industry say.

The land purchase is final, and plans continue forward to locate an olive farm near Telferner, just off U.S. Highway 59, said Jim Henry with Texas Olive Ranch.

The goal is to begin clearing land within 10 days, he said Thursday, while planting will take place in June and July. The finished product - at least throughout the project's initial phase - will include 201,000 trees on 300 acres, plus a visitors center, a $5 million processing and bottling facility and a gift shop.

Eventually, the company hopes a venue for weddings and parties also will join the mix.

Olive farming within the Lone Star State isn't as outlandish an idea as some people might think, Henry said, explaining that weather is key to a successful crop. Of the 10 criteria that come into play when selecting land, he said, Victoria met nine.

The city's only downfall was its humidity, an issue the growers plan to combat by planting rows that face into the wind, allowing wind to blow through the orchard.

Henry said he's received generous support from California Olive Ranch, a massive operation that oversees 7 million trees. That assistance includes access to research and the like.

Still, nothing in life comes free.

He said he expects other companies, including the California business, to monitor Victoria's operation. If successful, he said, they'll likely buy up land for operations of their own.

Other farmers, too, are looking to plant 50- or 100-acre olive farms, he said, noting they also gain access to that same research.

Texas Olive Ranch's existing orchard in Carrizo Springs saw its first harvest in 2007, Henry said. He learned of Victoria through extensive weather studies, he said, and met Victoria Mayor Will Armstrong during a trip to Guerrero, Mexico, last summer.

The mayor asked whether Henry had ever considered an olive operation in Victoria. Once Armstrong found out there was an interest, he helped get the ball rolling, putting Henry in contact with the landowner and the like.

"It'll be a good thing if any of this - even part of it - is as we envision it," Henry said. "It's going to be good for Victoria. But it's all directly related to the mayor. And I can't really thank him enough."

Armstrong said he looks forward to introducing new industry to Victoria. The farm might not require a large labor pool - Henry estimated about 20 full-time employees - but the product is one that will bring visitors.

"It'll be a tourist attraction somewhat like vineyards are for people who enjoy wine," he said. "This could be the start of ... a new agricultural product that will be substantial and will put Victoria on the map."

Henry admitted the orchard has its work cut out for it in the coming months and said he remains optimistic. Once fully operational, phase one will produce about 1,500 tons of olives, he said, which means 48,000 gallons of olive oil.

Still, he said, agriculture can be tricky. It all boils down to Mother Nature.

"There are no guarantees that this is a sure thing," he said. "It has to be viewed as a speculative operation/investment. However, we feel like that in Texas, and having done this for 20 years, that where we are and what we're getting ready to do, alleviates a majority of those issues."

Karen Henry, who does marketing for Texas Olive Ranch, said she looks forward to what's to come. After all these years, and the work involved, olives are the Henrys' life.

Standing in an orchard connects a person to the history of human civilization and to the roots of Western religion, she said. Meanwhile, that final product - extra virgin olive oil - is still alive with active components that help keep people young, healthy and looking good.

"Once you get started, it's like a disease," she said about her love for the industry. "It's incurable."

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