Market struggling, say olive growers

Production levels of best-quality olive oils are increasing every year as trees mature.
Production levels of best-quality olive oils are increasing every year as trees mature.

Australia produces about 16,000 tonnes of the oil annually to supply a burgeoning 53,000 tonne domestic market.

WA’s market share is about 3000 tonnes.

WA Olive Council past president Mike Baker said while the WA industry is relatively small, it provides some of the best-quality oil.

‘And production levels are increasing every year as our trees mature,’ he said.

Larger olive farms around Gingin and Frankland River were the most cost-effective, producing about 90 per cent of the oil coming out of the west.

Mr Baker said although costs were high and returns relatively low, the industry in WA ‘is gradually expanding’.

But many local growers disagree. Gingin farmer Cyril Sauzier said the market in WA was ‘struggling’.

‘Two years ago things were very tough,’ he said.

‘I was offered just $2.40 a litre for my olive oil ” that’s suicidal. There was such cheap olive oil coming in from Spain and Italy.

‘There are three or four farms in Gingin alone with abandoned groves.

‘I know of one farmer who had 120 tonnes of olives last year and he didn’t even harvest because he said it was not worth it. He left the olives to fall from the trees.’

He said to grow an olive crop, harvest, process, put the oil into tanks, bottle and sell it was ‘a big job’.

‘I’m fortunate that I have external funds to survive on in the bad times, to be alive when the good times in the industry are here,’ he said.