Number of Varieties to Plant


(Adapted from the September 1996 Olives Australia  Newsletter)

The search is always on for the ever elusive 'best' variety of olive. Growers want to know "Which is the best oil variety?" or "Which variety  gives the nicest flavoured table olives?". These questions stem from human nature's desire for the best, most worthy and most profitable things in life. However, in the olive industry, as with any horticultural industry, the 'best'  variety has many variables.

The better question to ask, although more difficult to answer, is, "Which varieties best suit my property's climate and will in the long term  give me the greatest quality and financial returns?"

Regular readers of the Australian Olive Grower will realise  that there is no such variety as the 'best oil variety' or 'nicest flavoured  table olive'. Each variety has its strengths and weaknesses and must be judged  in the light of both. In addition to this, each person (consumer) has their own personal preferences of oil  types and fruits. Ultimately, it is the final consumer who will be the judge of quality and variety. With these points in mind, we can begin to assess how many varieties a grower should plant to assist a strong market position and the best possible economic returns.

Points to consider:

1. In general, groves should have at least three cultivars  to assist with pollination and to improve fruit set. Research is continuing as to which oil cultivars are best for pollinating each other.

2.Strong market position is a major key to economic success. As  with a food store, the quality and variety of products sold influences buyers towards or away from a business. How much business would a store get if it only  carried one breakfast cereal, one type of fruit and one cooking oil? Whether you  are planning to process and market your own oil and fruit, or simply sell your fruit directly to a processor, having only one variety will limit your ability to sell efficiently.

For example, if you are selling one variety of fruit and one variety of oil direct from your property in a 'cellar door' type situation, then your neighbour who has three varieties will attract more customers. In fact,  when your long term regular customers find out about next door's range, they could slowly change their loyalties because they begin to view the producer next door as a "one stop shopping spot". The producer with a number of varieties and presentations has an even  stronger market advantage because buyers will often purchase 'one of each' just  to try them, thereby increasing their turn over.

3. With most agricultural and  horticultural pursuits it is important to be able to 'follow the market' in any given season. If  variety A is giving a high price then it would be mighty nice to have a good  crop of it coming off the trees. However, if you only have variety B and it hasn't given a good price in three seasons, then you are naturally not as well  off. Fortunately, olive oil is not solely judged on the variety name (see point 4). Having a number of varieties allows you to 'follow the market' more easily  than if you only plant a single variety.

4. The success of a good wine often  lies in the blend of grape  varieties used in its processing. It is the same with olive oil. Although varietal oils are becoming more common in various parts of the world, by far the majority are still blends of various varieties to give certain flavours.  Increasingly, the palate of the final consumer determines the type of oil sold  and the blend of varieties within that oil.

Varietal oils have very individual characteristics which are not always as widely accepted as blended oils. Having a number of varieties  available for blending increases the marketability of any grove's  produce.

5.Alternate bearing and seasonal climatic changes also effect the economy of an olive grove. Alternate bearing can be somewhat controlled with various pruning, irrigation, tree spacing and varietal choices and a dry year  can easily be corrected with additional irrigation. However, each variety reacts  in its own way to such factors and having a small spread of varieties reduces the possible economic effects.

6. By now you may be thinking, "If two varieties are better than one, then ten are even better than two!" Although  seemingly logical, this is definitely not always true in an olive  orchard.

The first obstacle in such a situation is harvest timing. Although a large grower may want to spread the harvest period over as long a period as possible and therefore choose varieties which range from very early maturing to very late, it is not economical for a contract harvester to visit a small grove two or three times during a season as each group of varieties ripens. With a small to medium  sized orchard of three varieties, it is often best to have two early's and a  mid, or two mid's and a late. As such, harvesting can all be done at once when two varieties are at their peak (just turning black for oil olives) and the  other is either still green or fully black.

From a table fruit perspective, it can become very difficult to  process olives of various sizes and ripeness. As such, it is better to perfect the processing of a few varieties rather than producing average quality fruit of many. Having too many varieties will often leave you with stock of varieties  which do not sell as well as others do. Stock that won't sell can be worse than no stock at all.


This article is not designed to deter growers who are planning to specialise in the production and marketing of a single varietal olive  product. Ours is a world of specialisation, and today it is the specialists who are succeeding in all facets of business. It has been said that, "It's OK to put all of your eggs in one basket, but you'd better keep a good eye on that basket!"

We fully realise that there are arguments for and against many of the above points. However, for the majority of growers about three varieties will give the best economic returns and therefore the most smiles for  generations to come.