Agriculture experts still learning best ways to raise olives in Texas

Jessica  Rodrigo By Jessica Rodrigo

May 29, 2014 at 12:29 a.m.
Updated May 30, 2014 at 12:30 a.m.

Larry Stein, Texas AgriLife Extension Services fruit crop specialist

Larry Stein, Texas AgriLife Extension Services fruit crop specialist   Jessica Rodrigo for The Victoria Advocate

Olive trees simply cannot be planted and left alone to flourish.

The relatively new Texas tree crop requires about a year of planning and lots of attention once the trees are planted, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension fruit crop specialists said Thursday.

About 125 people attended the Olive Orchard Management training session Thursday at the Victoria Educational Gardens Pavilion sponsored by the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Services and Texas Olive Oil Council, said Peter McGuill, Victoria County AgriLife Extension agent.

Three fruit crop specialists - Monte Nesbitt, Jim Kamas and Larry Stein - presented information they collected during a visit to a California olive nursery in April. They wanted to learn more about the tree crop as part of a grant proposal by the Texas Olive Oil Council.

In order to make olive oil production profitable for growers, said Nesbitt, it's important to have as much information as possible before making an investment.

"Outcomes cannot be fully predicted," he said during his presentation. "That can be a big challenge for us."

Many growers - or potential growers - scribbled notes from the presentations and asked questions about the initial investment and the process of harvesting.

Though the answers varied between each of the growers, the specialists were able to share information about the trees, including the trees' ability to adapt to the environment and the key components that are necessary to make it a successful venture.

Dennis Kristynik, of Schulenburg, attended the training to research a crop he is thinking about growing when he retires. He wants a small acreage crop and was weighing his options between grapes or olives.

"I think it's more viable to grow olives," Kristynik said. "Over time, I think they'll start growing a variety that's more frost-resistant and grown for this area."

He has been in the agriculture business in different capacities for years. He said he was looking for a crop that he could raise in his free time. Learning more about what it takes to raise olive trees was a key reason he attended the training.

"If you're going to have a hobby, it has to be profitable," he said.

Important factors that need to be considered are weather, soil, water needs and harvesting approaches, said Kamas.

"Site selection is one of the more critical factors in olive growing," he said during his presentation. "Pick a site that has the biggest potential for success."

But before planting, he said, growers need to start preparing the land at least 15 months in advance. That includes building berms, laying drip lines and irrigation as well as support systems. Water use is a big issue in Texas, Kamas said, so it's also important to effectively water orchards and administer nutrients. Knowing how well the soil in an orchard drains is very important.

Olive tree orchards will produce for a long time as long as they are taken care of, Stein said during his segment. The goal for the growers is to produce a sustainable fruit yield and high-quality olive oil, he said.

"Our job is to reduce doubt with research-based education," he said. "It's better if we are involved in the front end during the site selection."

Many of the Texas olive growers are still experimenting with the crop, he said. They may have started growing crops before the extension service knew there was an interest.

"The only way we can move is if we work together," Stein said.

Because there are not a lot of people readily available to talk about their experiences growing olive trees, McGuill said growers have to rely on the knowledge of the three specialists and each other.

"It's evident that there were more questions than answers," said McGuill after the training. "Olive growing in Texas is still in its infancy."



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