By Beckie Wilson
Wairarapa’s olive oil producers have had a tough harvest season over the past few months which will have oil lovers needing to get in quick as stock will be limited.
Due to last summer’s lack of sunshine hours coupled with autumn’s higher rainfall, the olives yielded less than average volumes of oil, meaning less for suppliers and buyers.
Wairarapa produces about 15 per cent of New Zealand’s Extra Virgin Olive Oil, mostly for the domestic market but there are a couple of producers who export.
Across New Zealand olive harvest tonnage – weight of olives harvested – was down on 50 per cent on average with some groves in Wairarapa not having a harvest at all, says Olives New Zealand executive officer Gayle Sheridan.
Wairarapa has the largest number of groves in New Zealand, with some of the growers feeling the brunt of the weather but positive with the mild flavoured result.
Olivo owner Helen Meehan said it was a challenging summer, and a wet autumn which makes for a mild, delicate batch of olive oil.
There was less crop and a lower yield, “so it’s not as profitable as normal or as last year”, she said.
“For example, our average yield last year was 16 to 18 per cent, this year it was 12 per cent.”
She had heard of some growers with an average of about six per cent, “which is not very profitable – 12 per cent is marginal”.
“You just need a lot more olives to produce the same amount of oil.
“A lot of people said to me that their tonnage was down, but I didn’t experience that.”
So for most growers, the amount of oil available this year is much less.
Lot Eight owner Nalini Baruch said she finished harvesting last Friday, but it was not one of their best seasons.
Leading up to the harvest, she was unsure whether to wait a few more weeks for the fruit to mature – but ended up picking early.
The cost of production increased significantly due to the amount of water in the olive that needed to be processed, she said.
“In our case, our costs of production could be as high as 35 per cent- a lot higher than previous years.”
Buyers could expect oil to be a “little bit more expensive”, but Mrs Baruch doesn’t think it will put people off.
While this weather has not been ideal for extra virgin olive oil, it has been a very good year for their cold press, she said.
“We just have to take the season. Some years we get a good return, some we don’t.”
Olives New Zealand executive officer Gayle Sheridan said producers are likely to keep their prices the same and “just take the hit”.
“But I would expect that a number will sell out before next season’s harvest, so the tip would be to get in and buy up while it is available,” she said.
The olives did not have a chance to mature fully which reflected in smaller fruit and lower oil yield.
“This has been compounded by the threat of frosts and birds, which has meant growers have had to harvest rather than waiting.”
“Happily I can say the quality is still good with the earlier harvested crops being pungent and peppery while the later harvested are fruitier.”
Wairarapa Olive Harvesting owner Andrew Priddle said this harvest season had been disappointing for most people.
This is his third season as a harvest contractor, and in comparison to this season, last year was a “boomer”.
Some growers had up to 80 per cent of last year’s growth this harvest, but some had no harvest at all.
“There were a few that didn’t harvest some groves, there were some that didn’t harvest some varieties,” he said.