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Florida farm tries olives after catastrophic citrus greening losses

What is in this article?:

  • Florida farm tries olives after catastrophic citrus greening losses
  • Richard Williams has a lot riding on the Florida Olive Systems, Inc.
  • Florida farmers formed the Florida Olive Council 10 years ago. Currently, there are 300 acres of olive trees in the state managed by approximately 50 growers.

UC Davis

Williams checks the leaf structure to see which of the 11,160 olive trees are giving fruit. He has a lot riding on the Florida Olive Systems, Inc., project that is being funded by the Ford/Veech family.

After conducting his own research on the viability of growing olives in Florida, Williams visited Texas, Georgia and California, which have a history of growing high-density olives. Also, he and other growers invited experts from Italy, Spain and Greece to visit Florida and discuss the olive industry.

In 2012, Williams planted 20 acres of Arbequina, Arbosana, and Koroneiki varieties of olives.  He also has 16 varieties of olive trees under observation, planted in approximately 6,000 containers.  Williams has additional varieties coming in to evaluate this spring.

“Planting olives is not for the faint of heart by any stretch of the imagination. This is so new that we are learning every day,” said Williams, whose wife Lisa helps run Florida Olive Systems, Inc. “But it’s a new opportunity to reinvent ourselves after catastrophic losses to citrus greening.”

Williams’s in-laws have grown citrus for decades, part of the $10.7 billion industry that has helped define Florida as the Sunshine State. Yet, the onset of citrus greening disease decimated farms throughout the state, causing approximately $7.8 billion in lost revenue, 162,200 citrus acres and 7,513 jobs since 2007, according to researchers with the University of Florida Institute for Food and Agricultural Sciences.

“I looked at consumption the United States, and we are the number three consumers of olive oil in the world,” Williams said. “But I also thought, ‘Can I really compete with the Italians and Greeks who have been producing olive oil for thousands of years?’ That was the same thinking on blueberries and now Florida has a thriving blueberry industry.”

Williams has the right idea, said Jennifer Gillett-Kaufman, a UF/IFAS entomology professor who is leading the study of olive production in Florida. “Imagine buying extra virgin olive oil from olives grown in Florida. That may soon become a reality as we explore olives as a new crop in the state,” she said.

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