Ranch Update: the Drought and Our Olive Harvest; Sporting Harvest Beards

Photo by Charlie Garcia, California Olive Ranch
Photo by Charlie Garcia, California Olive Ranch

We’re thick into harvest, having started in early October. Our harvest teams are putting in 14-hour days to gather the olives and truck them to our northern California mill. The wonderful smell of fresh extra virgin olive oil permeates the mill. Meanwhile, the men on the harvest and milling teams are sporting their annual harvest beards. It’s part of a fun competition. We caught up with one of our ranchers, Brian Mori, to see how the harvest – and the beards – are going. Brian works with the family farmers who grow many of our olives.

How’s the harvest been going so far?

It’s been going at a pretty good pace. We’re becoming more efficient every year. We fine-tune our operations from one year to the next. Also, we haven’t had any rain that would prevent us from harvesting.

We’re still running about a 1-½ to 2 two weeks earlier than past harvests. We had an earlier season in general, so we were able to start the harvest early. The fruit maturity was ahead of schedule. Like last year, we had an early dry spring, which starts the olive development cycle earlier than usual.

Has the drought had any impact on the harvest?

It definitely has limited the water that we have in certain areas. And the drought contributed to the earlier harvest date. When we get into drought conditions, we have to limit the amount we can irrigate the trees. The dry conditions can put some stress on the trees, which can contribute to the olives maturing earlier.

How this year’s crop yield?

We’re a little bit lighter this year overall. But last year was an incredible year in terms of volume. So it’s not a big surprise that this year is a little smaller.

What are some of the fun traditions during harvest?

Most of our field and milling teams are involved in the beard contest. For this contest, you get points for style as well as volume – in other words, who can grow the largest beard. It’s a good tradition, one we’ve been doing for the last several years. It’s a team-building experience. We also have a barbecue at the end of harvest that everyone looks forward to.

How busy are you all in the orchards?

We’re working 14 hour days, seven days a week. We’ve been going at a consistent pace. Everyone is still in pretty good spirits. That said, I’m sure everyone is praying for at least one rainy day to get a day off.

What’s a typical day like for you?

I usually start my day at about 5 am. We’ll check the harvest schedule to see what’s been delivered from the night before. We also set that’s day’s schedule – what we’ll harvest and when. And we’ll determine whether there’s anything we need to address that day. I usually get home at about 7 pm or 8 pm.

It seems like you have a pretty diverse group of people involved in harvest and milling.

We’re predominantly a younger group – under 30. On the milling side they have a pretty good mix of men and women. Here on the harvest side we’re primarily male.

Your friends at California Olive Ranch