Florida Growers Seek Ways To Grow Olive Trees Locally

Gillett Kaufman poses with olives.  Photo by Alex Catalano, provided to WUFT by Gillett Kaufman.
Gillett-Kaufman holds Arbequina olives. These olives are grown at UF on a plot of land near the Southwest Rec Center. (Courtesy of Gillett Kaufman)

The olive oil people buy from Italy may not be the real deal.

According to an article from The Telegraph, an investigation exposed a multimillion olive oil fraud where oil labeled as Italian extra virgin olive oil was actually cheaper Spanish or Greek oil.

Pests are also infesting Italian olive trees, said Jennifer Gillett-Kaufman, UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences extension scientist in the entomology and nematology department.

All of this means it may be time to start growing olives closer to home, she said.

“There’s a new pest destroying olive trees in Italy and on top of the fraud and the trees being destroyed, people are looking more and more for local sources of olive oil because they feel like they can trust a local grower,” said Gillett-Kaufman.

In Florida Robert Williams, owner of Florida Olive Systems Inc., is aiming to take on that role.

Williams has been doing research on the topic of growing olive trees in Florida since 2007. There are more than 2,000 known varieties of olives and Williams worked to find the right variety that can grow well in Florida.

In 2012, his team planted its first plot of Arbequina olive trees in DeLeon Springs.

Williams and his team have also visited groves in California, Texas and Georgia to observe their agricultural practices. He took soil samples and compared them with the dirt in his groves to determine the differences. Gillett-Kaufman was there to assist in determining potential pests that may damage the crops.

“We go to groves around the state and physically look for pests, but we also work with our county extension offices,” Gillett-Kaufman said.

Some places like California have started growing local olive trees, which is possible due to its dry climate. Florida growers wish to produce their own olive oil, too.

The county extension offices work closely with the growers in their respective areas. When the offices learn about pests in their area, they relay the information to Gillett-Kaufman.

“I have a lot of eyes and ears in the state by using that extension system,” Gillett-Kaufman said.

This allows Gillett-Kaufman to get a broad sample size for her research, which started in 2014. Her research’s main goal is to look at different olive cultivars and production areas in Florida to see what kind of pests might be a problem.

About Mariana Riquezes

Mariana is a reporter who can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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