In California, the unusually wet winter of 2023 is leading to record-high harvests of the state’s walnut and tomato crops. Even so, growers are still adapting to a climate that’s becoming hotter and drier by the decade.
Many growers in the olive industry have been turning to regenerative farming practices to help reduce the lingering effects of California’s drought. These practices help improve the health of the soil itself, while also retaining more water. The country’s largest olive oil producer, California Olive Ranch, is one of the large-scale companies leading the charge.
California Olive Ranch recycles roughly 99 percent of its waste. The byproducts that come from its production process — namely pomace, trimmings, and water — are all reused, with the pomace being sent to nearby ranches for use as cattle feed. Olive trimmings are pruned, recycled, and turned into compost for California Olive Ranch’s own groves. Water is recycled and reused in the company’s drip irrigation system, whose design cuts down on evaporation and minimizes overall water demand. In the off season, the olive groves even provide a temporary home for beehives from several local apiaries.
A similar move toward regenerative agriculture has been taken by Temecula Olive Oil Company. According to owner Thom Curry, the company’s trees “have a net carbon sequestration of more than 4 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent per liter produced,” meaning the Temecula Olive Oil Company captures more carbon in its tree biomass and soil than it uses to produce olive oil.
“We are only a few years into a long-term journey,” he adds. “We believe over time that healthy soils lead to healthy trees, which leads to healthy fruit and even better olive oil.”
At Blossom Vineyards, owner Frank Olagaray has been growing wine grapes, organic almonds, organic olives for olive oil, and organic walnuts for decades. He’s a fan of regenerative agriculture, and he says the work goes far beyond planting cover crops between rows of olive trees.
“We have been using cover crops in our vineyards for the past 20 years and have not seen an increase in our soil health,” he explains. “I think that is because we were tilling in the cover crop, and tillage destroys the soil.” Keeping tillage to an absolute minimum, Olagaray instead distributes a compost made from 25 percent food waste and 75 percent yard waste. This keeps the weeds small and manageable. Olagaray also creates hedgerows of native plants, which become a home for beneficial insects and predators. The insects feed on pests that might otherwise damage the olives themselves, like black scale.
“Organic, sustainable, and regenerative offer essential elements of a holistic approach and point to an overarching philosophy,” he adds. “We work to improve our soil, which improves our trees. That, in turn, improves the quality of our fruit. Higher quality fruit combined with constantly improving processing techniques improves the quality of our products both in flavor and health benefits.”
From weather patterns to booming crops, it’s shaping up to be an historic year in California agriculture. Regenerative agriculture can help growers plan for the historic years ahead.