WHILE Australia's record olive crop this year has been welcomed by growers, it has also highlighted the need for more consistent production, year on year.
Growers and industry bodies are expecting a record 20,000 tonnes of olive oil to be produced this year, with harvest all but complete.
Australian Olive Association chief executive officer Michael Southan said after low production last year, growers are having a record harvest as olive growing areas emerge from drought and experience more favourable seasons.
"The olive industry is young in Australia but has had tremendous growth in production over the last 20 years," Mr Southan said.
The industry has flourished in Australia with the entry of savvy operators who have increased the nation's overall olive production
Australia's climate suits the production of high-quality olive oil, with more than 75 per cent of fruit producing extra virgin (EVOO) quality, considered the premium level of oil.
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In comparison, only about 25pc of oil produced from olives grown in Mediterranean countries is EVOO.
According to the 2019/20 Australian Horticulture Statistics Handbook, 50,000t of fresh olives were produced to June last year, with 99pc (49,500t) extracted for oil.
The value of production of olives was $62 million, while the wholesale value of the oil supply was $225m and the wholesale value of the table supply was $70.3m.
The consumption of olive oil per capita was 1.6kg, based on the volume supplied.
According to the Australian Olive Association, Australian consumption of EVOO has risen from 63pc of olive oil sales in 2017 to 65pc in 2019. The key drivers of this growth were health and quality.
"With such fantastic health properties and consumers being more health conscious during COVID, it is not surprising that demand continues to outstrip supply of fresh, locally grown EVOO, so the industry needs to continue to grow," Mr Southan said.
"One of the main challenges we have is to become more consistent in production from one year to the next.
"Olive production is typically cyclical, with high production years alternating with lower production years: this biennial bearing is a natural cycle associated with olives and other tree crops but also shows the effect of drought and other environmental impacts.
"The industry is currently focussed on targeted grove management practices to reduce this variation in production, aiming to ensure there's enough fresh, local EVOO available year-round."
"The good news is that the record 2021 harvest means consumers will be spoilt for choice when it comes to selecting EVOO, and they won't have to look past our fresh, high-quality Australian products."
Remote sensing helps olive growers plan
RESEARCHERS at the University of New England are measuring a yield increase of up to 300pc on last year in the Boort region of Victoria.
Teams from UNE's Applied Agricultural Remote Sensing Centre (AARSC) and the NSW Department of Primary Industries have been sampling individual trees to validate remote sensing techniques for measuring tree health, water stress, yield and oil quality.
Their findings will contribute to valuable tools under development for delivering vast improvements in yield forecasting, water use and disease detection.
It is the sum of several years of close industry collaboration and technology evaluation that AOA president Michael Thomsett says is "profoundly beneficial".
"The remote sensing has given us a new perspective and will enable the monitoring of larger areas with ease," Mr Thomsett said.
"The benefits are not confined to larger commercial growers either; they will be just as useful to smaller growers and absentee owners in an industry that has a significant boutique sector.
"Information gathered through the remote sensing will help us to know where we stand with a particular block, variety and farm, from forecasting crop yield to water and nutritional status.
"Monitoring is very laborious and time-consuming in olive groves, so being able to identify areas and pinpoint issues that may not otherwise be detected, instantaneously from a desktop, brings huge efficiencies."
The AARSC has been working closely with NSW DPI, the AOA and CERES airborne imaging on a range of projects.
The first is testing the use of satellites, airborne imagery and on-ground sensors for measuring the influence of water shortages on olive yield and quality, and the second is applying remote sensing to all-important yield forecasting and the detection of the prevalent fungal disease verticillium.
Lead AARSC olive researcher Dr Angelica Suarez Cadavid said the project was achieving up to 98pc accuracy with its olive forecasts across multiple sites.
"This will deliver vitally important information to assist growers with their production estimates and forward selling," Dr Cadavid said.
Director of the AARSC Professor Andrew Robson said accurate forecasts enable growers to plan their harvesting and processing schedules and to better understand variations at the paddock level, including trends of alternate bearing.
With a boom in ag-tech products, the AARSC is dedicated to evaluating the efficacy of remote sensing technologies and imagery (sourced from satellite, airborne and ground-based sensors) capable of measuring a variety of tree crop traits.
The aim is to develop cost-effective, reliable techniques that enable individual growers to develop greater pest and disease resilience, labour and water efficiencies and productivity gains.
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