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UC Davis Olive Center Fact Sheet

January 14, 2008

What will the Olive Oil Center do?

The center's mission is to enhance the economic viability of the California olive industry.

In the land-grant university tradition, UC Davis intends to bring together the academic expertise necessary to help the California olive industry overcome the current stagnation in its table-olive sector and to provide guidance in developing production methods for the growing olive-oil sector.

The center plans to develop olive-related courses for UC Davis students, conduct research in a variety of fields and provide continuing-education short courses for members of the olive industry.

Why is UC Davis starting this center?

The University of California has a distinguished history of collaborating with the olive industry stretching back to 1898, when UC Berkeley Professor Eugene Hilgard and pioneering California olive producer Frieda Ehman worked together to develop a canning process for black ripe olives.

During the past decade, University of California Cooperative Extension farm advisors and specialists have coordinated olive-oil production short courses, olive-oil sensory evaluation short courses and educational grower tours to Europe. They also helped start the California Olive Oil Council, developed the first International Olive Oil Council taste panel recognized outside the Mediterranean region, collected industry productions statistics and developed a cost study to help assess the crop's investment potential. The university also has conducted research on high-density planting systems, pruning levels, mechanical harvest, variety evaluation, orchard irrigation, plant nutrition, disease management and olive fruit fly control.

Today, UC Davis has internationally recognized authorities in key areas related to olive production and processing. The campus also has a young, but successful, olive-oil production program and more than 2,000 olive trees, which comprise the most extensive collection of olive varieties in North America.

How is it being financed?

The center has received $75,000 in seed funding from the campus's College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and the Office of Research. Startup funds totaling $25,000 also have been provided by industry affiliates. Proceeds from the campus olive-oil production program will help provide operational funding for the center, which hopes to attract further funding from state and federal agencies, and industry.

What kind of equipment will be required?

The new center will include state-of-the-art milling equipment. In fall 2008, the Olive Center plans be processing olive oil with the equipment.

Where will it be housed?

The center's administrative headquarters will be in the academic wing of the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science complex, which is under construction and scheduled for completion in June 2008. The milling equipment will initially be housed in the Department of Food Science and Technology's food-processing plant and later moved to a new campus facility that will be built in the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science complex. Classes and research activities will be housed in a variety of campus locations.

Who from the university will be involved with the center?

The center will be coordinated by Executive Director Dan Flynn, who also manages the UC Davis olive-oil production program. Faculty co-directors will be plant scientist Vito Polito and food scientist Charles Shoemaker. More than 30 individuals from the fields of plant science, food science, agricultural economics and agricultural engineering have expressed interest in participating in the new center. These include campus researchers and University of California Cooperative Extension farm advisors.

How will the olive industry be involved?

Members of the California olive industry have been instrumental in helping UC Davis define the practical problems that might be addressed by the center. The industry also has provided startup funds for the new center. The campus hopes that members of the industry will participate in public outreach courses and maintain ongoing communications with university researchers.


Are olive trees native to California?

No. Olive trees originated in Asia Minor, spreading about 6,000 years ago from Iran, Syria and Palestine to the rest of the Mediterranean region. Records show that in the mid-1500s, olive tree cuttings were taken by the Spaniards to Peru. In the 1700s, Franciscan monks brought olives to Mexico and northward as they established the California mission system. The first recorded planting of an olive tree in California was in 1769 at Mission San Diego de Alcala.

How old is the California olive industry?

Commercial olive farming in California began in the late 1800s, primarily in the valleys of Central and Northern California. Those early olive crops went into olive-oil production but, in the early 1900s, the industry shifted, as canning technology resulted in higher returns for table olives than for oil. Today, 90 percent of California's olive production is for canned olives, with only 10 percent crushed for oil. This is just the opposite of Spain, the world's leading olive producer, which grows 90 percent of its olive crop for oil and only 10 percent for cured olive products.

How big is the California olive industry?

California is the only state in the nation producing a commercially significant crop of olives. Approximately 70 to 80 percent of the ripe olives consumed in the United States come from California. While the olive is an important specialty crop for California, the state's olive industry is dwarfed by that of Spain. For example, a 2002 Census of Agriculture indicated that California had 39,591 acres of olives grown on 1,549 farms, while Spain had more than 5.6 million acres of olives grown by 571,150 producers.

During the past 25 years, health-conscious consumers have led a revival in olive oil as a flavorful alternative to vegetable oils. Demand for olive oil has doubled during the past 10 years. California now produces about 400,000 gallons of olive oil annually.

The development in recent years of new tree varieties that can be efficiently machine-harvested has also led to large new plantings of olive trees. Industry experts forecast that California's volume of olive oil will increase by 500 percent in the next five years.

Which are the leading olive-producing counties in California?

The top olive-producing counties in California are Tulare, Tehama and Glenn counties.

What olive varieties are grown in California?

California farmers grow dozens of different olive types. The five most important California table-olive varieties are the Manzanillo, Sevillano, Mission, Ascolano and Barouni. The Manzanillo represents the most acreage, while the Sevillano and Ascolano are valued for their larger olive size. Olive-oil producers have planted large numbers of the Arbequina, Arbosana, Koroneiki, Frantoio, Mission, Manzanillo and Leccino varieties.

More information about California olives is available online from:

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