NOTICE: Hard copies of the Australian New Crops Newsletter are available from the publisher, Dr Rob Fletcher. Details of availability are included in theAdvice on Publications Available.
Notes contributed by Farnell Hobman
Primary Industries South Australia
PO Box 411
Loxton SA 5333 Australia.
The olive is one of the oldest cultivated fruits. It has probably been grown in the Mediterranean region for the past 4 millennia and has been used either pickled or as a source of cooking oil. Olives have played an important part in the diet of the people living in that region.
Olives have been grown in Australia on a small scale since the early 1800s but annual imports total $51 million worth of olive oil and $21 million worth of pickled olives (1992 figures). Attempts to develop Australian production practices for olives to substitute for these imports are currently underway in South Australia.
Australian olive oil imports came mainly from Italy and Spain, with Italy servicing the quality market and Spain providing a wide range of market-quality oils. Pickling olives mainly came from Spain and Greece.
The olive tree is native to the area extending from the Mediterranean coasts of Syria and Israel to the north western region of Iraq. The Phoenicians introduced olives to the Greek islands in the 16th Century BC and to Greece proper in the 12th Century BC. Olive culture gradually expanded westwards in the Mediterranean region and by the 6th Century BC olives were being grown in Tripoli, Tunis and Sicily. By about 200 BC olives were an important crop in Spain.
During the past 2 millennia olives have been introduced to many countries around the world having a mediterranean climate. However, Mediterranean countries, particularly Spain and Italy, dominate world production and trade.
Olives were introduced to Australia in the early 1800s and there are reports of trees being grown at Parramatta in NSW in 1805. In 1836, the Macarthurs exhibited oil produced from trees in the Araluen Valley and in 1844, Sir Samuel Davenport introduced olive trees from Sicily and planted them at Beaumont near Adelaide. In the 1890s, the Chaffey Brothers planted olives in the irrigated horticultural areas along the Murray River.
There are several areas in Australia with soils and climates similar to the olive-growing areas overseas. Olives grow best in areas with winter dominant rainfall and a total annual rainfall from 500 to 800 mm. They prefer well drained neutral or alkaline soils having a pH in the range 6.5 to 8.2.
The Andalusia region in Spain is that country's major olive growing area and there are areas with similar climate and soils near Adelaide and in the irrigation areas along the Murray River. The climate in these areas is one of hot summers and wet winters and soils are derived from limestone and have a moderately high pH.
Olives are also grown in the temperate regions of Umbria in Central Italy which have similar climates and soils to parts of Tasmania and the southernmost areas of mainland Australia.
Suitable areas for olive growing in Australia are therefore found in the Riverland region of South Australia, large areas of the Murray Mallee and the Sunraysia area of Victoria and NSW.
Both olive yield and tree health are adversely affected by poor soil drainage. Olives will not tolerate severe frosts.
Olive tree planting density is usually determined by the level of rainfall or irrigation, ranging from 200 trees/ha at 500 mm rainfall or irrigation to 300 trees/ha at 750 mm rainfall or irrigation. With 300 trees/ha, row spacing is 5.5 to 7.5 m with trees set 4.5 to 6 m apart in the rows. With 200 trees/ha, row spacing is 7 to 8 m with trees 6 to 7 m apart in the rows.
Greenwood cuttings of selected cultivars are used for propagation and are taken 18 to 24 months before they are ready for field planting. A collection of about sixty olive cultivars which were imported into Australia early this century is available for use in any future plant improvement program.
The nutrient requirements of olive trees depend on tree size and growing conditions. Leaf analysis is used to determine the nutrient status of trees and to plan an appropriate fertiliser program.
There are few serious pests and diseases of olives in Australia; black scale is a problem in some areas and peacock spot occurs in some Murrumbidgee orchards. Australia is fortunate in being free of olive fly, the major pest of olives in other countries, increases production costs. Mechanical harvesting is now well established in Europe and will undoubtedly become the standard practice in the future. Mechanical harvesters all involve shaking the trunk to dislodge the fruit and this requires appropriate pruning of the young tree. This involves removal of the lower branches to give a single trunk with no branches in the basal one metre.
Most Australian production is in South Australia and Victoria. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reports that in 1991 there were 4 589 trees under 6 years old and 74 438 trees over 6 years old. There has been a rapid expansion of plantings in recent years and it is estimated that there are now about 125 000 commercial olive trees in Australia.
Production in 1991 was reported as 683.8 tonnes (ABS). While these data indicate an average tree yield of only about 9 kg, yields of 50 kg/tree are routinely obtained with irrigation; under dryland conditions yields of 25 kg/tree are considered acceptable.
A program to assess the potential of olives is presently being undertaken at the Loxton Centre, Primary Industries South Australia. This program is seeking to establish optimum production practices and involves economic assessments. It is considered that with improved production practices, particularly mechanical harvesting, olives can become a profitable crop for farmers and one which will help reduce Australia's balance of trade by reducing the need for current imports.
Any claims made by authors in the Australian New Crops Newsletter are presented by the Editors in good faith. Readers would be wise to critically examine the circumstances associated with any claims to determine the applicability of such claims to their specific set of circumstances. This material can be reproduced, with the provision that the source and the author (or editors, if applicable) are acknowledged and the use is for information or educational purposes. Contact with the original author is probably wise since the material may require updating or amendment if used in other publications. Material sourced from the Australian New Crops Newsletter cannot be used out of context or for commercial purposes not related to its original purpose in the newsletter
Contact: Dr Rob Fletcher, School of Land and Food, The University of Queensland Gatton College, 4345; Telephone: 07 5460 1311 or 07 5460 1301; Facsimile: 07 5460 1112; International facsimile: 61 7 5460 1112; Email:firstname.lastname@example.org
[New Crops Home Page] [New Crops Program] [Australian New Crops Newsletter] [New Crops Publications] [Order Form] [People] [Crop Profiles] [Other Resources]
originally created by:GK; latest update 6 June 1999 by: RF