Is Olive the New Orange?
Central Florida Ag News|March 2021
Florida Growers Court New Alternative Crop
PAUL CATALA

WHEN IT COMES to Florida produce and agriculture, the names Navel, Hamlin, Pineapple, Ambersweet and Valencia are a lot more common than Arbequina, Ascolano, Taggiasca, or Sevillano.

Although Florida is noted for its citrus production, olives may hold promise for farmers looking for alternatives.

The conditions for growing olives in Florida are favorable. The state’s sandy, well-drained soils, plentiful sun and abundant rainfall mirror the Mediterranean, where olive trees have thrived for thousands of years. In addition, olives in Florida get ripe before those in California, which is a big advantage for growers in this area

Florida olive growers report they are seeing a more viable market over the past 10 years as more private and corporate farms are planting the seeds for olive production.

“I think we’d be even further along if it wasn’t for the COVID situation,” says Michael O’Hara Garcia, president of the Florida Olive Council who is based in Lacrosse and is involved in olive research promoting olives as an alternative crop in Florida.

“That’s kind of been holding us up. We’ll be doing better here in a while. We’re more of less focusing on discovering or developing a low-chill olive cultivar that we can bring down to South Florida that will perform better than the northern Mediterranean varieties that we currently have.”

There are about 800 acres under active cultivation being worked by about 80 farmers in Florida, Garcia explains. They range from 50 to 100 acres in North Florida down to five-acre test plots in the central parts of the state, in a total of about 20 counties.

Garcia said most of the cultivars in Florida now come from northern California nurseries, primarily growing olives native to the northern Mediterranean.

Around the state, there are currently two modern olive mills and Florida nurseries propagating olive trees for the fruit and for ornamental purposes.

Garcia adds that just over the Florida line, the Swiss agricultural management firm Agrigrada runs a 4,000-acre olive grove near Colquitt, Georgia, and a 300-acre olive grove and a modern olive mill serving growers near Valdosta, Georgia.

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