“Some are committed, others have choices.”
The great dilemma for many long-time growers with “traditionally planted” olive varietals is this: Should my olives be sold for olive oil or table olives? Where can I make more money? This will be a shorter post, with a general over-view, and I’ll dive more in depth on this subject for both olive oil and table olive crops in the future.
This year, in particular, the California “canners” who are buying fruit for table olives are paying slightly more than in years past because their inventory is low. Growers, of course, would like to see higher prices because their costs continue to increase. When selling your table olives, it’s all about the right size. You can be severely penalized for undersized or overripe fruit, and oddly enough, even having fruit that is too big! Here is a picture of a grading sheet used to determine size fruit for Sevillano (top) and Manzanillo (bottom). Both of these fruits are extremely sensitive to size when it comes to price; others not so much. The two largest canners in the country are Bell Carter/Lindsay and Musco, both in California.
California Olive Oil companies are starting to pay more and more for fruit, driven by competition as well as farming costs increasing for the grower. Generally, processors buying olives for oil have paid growers less for fruit than canners over the years. Here are a few of the largest olive oil processors in the country: California Olive Ranch, Corto Olive, Bari, Organic Roots, Enzo, Calivirgin, and Seka Hills, who mostly purchase super high density varieties: Arbequina, Arbosana and Koroneiki. Here are a few medium to small size processors that mill many different types of fruit, including those I mention in this post: Bozzano Olive Ranch, Sciabica, Pacific Sun, The Olive Press, and there are many more. To see a full list of processors and olive oil companies in California, visit the COOC website.
Here are a few factors:
Size: Undersized fruit can really hurt your grading when selling for table olives, cutting your price per ton by half in worst case scenarios. It’s really hard as a grower to control this because you are working with Mother Nature, and there are many factors. In addition, if your trees have a big crop on them, you’ll typically have smaller fruit, because the tree can’t pump enough energy to each olive on the tree to get it to size up. When this happens, it helps to have the option of selling your olives for oil, which can still net you a good amount of money because processors pay by the gallon or ton. Either way, with a big crop you have the potential to make more than you would have selling to a canner.
Variety: Some varieties are worth more than others for both table olives and olive oil. Sevillano and Manzanillo are the most popular olives for table olives in California, so canners pay more for them (prices listed below). I posted about three common California olive varieties here. They still make great oil though, and I talk about them in another post. Ascolano and Mission make amazing tasting oil and see higher prices from olive oil processors. However, some are still purchased here and there by canners for table olives at lower prices (prices listed below). Supply and demand apply here. Of course, there are many olive varieties not purchased by canners at all, and those varieties you are stuck selling to olive oil processors. Most have been planted on purpose for olive oil, but for some they have been forced to olive oil because the variety they grow is no longer needed by canners. Here are a few specific varieties planted for olive oil: Frantoio, Leccino, Arbequina, Arbosana and Koroneiki (they can still be pickled, but not many do). Varieties that have a smaller market are Kalamata, Baroni & Ascolano. They can go either way, and the grower can decide each year whether to sell for table or oil.
Location: For some growers, it may be so close in what they can be paid for their fruit from either a canner or oil processor that it could come down to how far they need to “truck” their olives to the plant. It can cost over $600/load to get to a plant, and for some, this could be all your profit spent in shipping costs.
Uniqueness: Unique olives can get a premium price. For instance, Kalamata is hard to find in California, so some processors pay over $900/ton.
Yield: Some olives don’t yield much in oil, and although Sevillano is a great tasting oil, its yields are very low. They may yield under 20 gallons/ton, when average yields are usually around 35 gallons/ton for most olives.
Relationships: Who you know and have worked with year after year is important. Most growers have contracts with buyers.
Prices this year for table olives 2015 (to the grower):
– Super Colossal: $1,200/ton
– Extra Large L: $300/ton
– Large: less than $300/ton
– Non Canning/Culls/Blacks: $10/ton
– Extra Large: $1,300/ton
– Large: $1,400/ton
– Medium: $1,400/ton
– Small: 1,050/ton
– Petite: $700/ton
– Sub-Petite: $500/ton
– Non Canning/Culls/Blacks: $10/ton
– Any size: $700 – $800/ton
– Any size: $800 – $900/ton
Prices this year for olive oil can be in both tons and gallons 2015 (to the grower):
– Ton –
Low popularity olives: $500 – $700 / ton
Medium popularity olives: $700 – $800/ton
High popularity olives: $800 – $1,200/ton
– Gallon –
Low popularity olives: $15 – $18 / gallon
Medium popularity olives: $18 – $22/gallon
High popularity olives: $22 – $27/gallon
*Prices listed above are rough estimates.
*Although prices are looking better this year across the board, harvesting costs are going up. Farmers will have to pay $400 – $500/ton to get their fruit hand-picked this year, and this will really cut into their profits.
Back to the question, do you sell for table olives or oil? As you can see many factors are at play, but generally I’ve seen growers that have always sold for table olives continue to do so. Some growers do wait to see how their crop looks when it comes time to pick and then make a decision. I recommend deciding your goal ahead of time. If it’s to sell for table olives, do everything you possibly can to max out the size…water! You can also “thin” if your crop is too heavy so that the tree can plump up the olives with a smaller crop. If your goal is to sell for oil, watch your watering; less is best for oil yield and flavor. Work with the processor on price. You might want to get paid by price per gallon versus price per ton if your yield of oil is high. You could negotiate to have the option for both. Decide who will pay for shipping.
As a grower, you need to make a choice of selling to a canner or olive oil processor. For instance, Sevillano is best for table olives, therefore, your last resort would be olive oil due to the low yield of oil. The Mission variety is a tougher decision. It can yield over 50 gallons per ton if farmed correctly and harvested later in the season, but you risk losing fruit in a bad storm if you hold it on the trees. At the end of the day, I would take the time to figure out how to make the most money based on your variety very early in the season.
– Dewey –