Assessing Varieties


(Adapted from the June 1996 Olives Australia Newsletter)

Australis Plants is able to propagate over 70 varieties from Olives Australia Mother Stock that has been identified using DNA or Morphological technique. They represent some of the most productive oil and table varieties from Spain, Italy, Greece, U.S.A., France, Israel, Yugoslavia, North Africa and Chile. These varieties have been carefully selected over the past 27  years.

An important part of variety selection is the list of  attributes which must be assessed well before a commercial planting is started. Due to the longevity of an olive orchard, a poor variety decision in the first few months of planning will not only stare you in the face for your lifetime, it  will also be seen by your children, grandchildren and even their offspring's offspring! In light of this, work your way through the following list and remember, "Do it right in the first  place."

Please Note - The points on this  list cover the areas you need to assess for each variety, however, the short examples and explanations given after each point are in no way comprehensive for  each point.

1. Is this variety suitable for the purpose I am planning? If I am  wanting trees for oil then the variety must be suitable for this...and the same  goes for table olives. Factors such as the size of table olives or flavours of  olive oil can also be taken into account.

2. Is this variety suitable for my climate? If your orchard is going into an area that regularly gets below minus 6 degrees Celsius in winter, then you don't want to put in warm weather varieties. You may do so for a trial,  and future growers will thank you for it, but the majority of your trees must be  climatically suited. On the other hand, if your area is relatively warm in winter then you will need to select appropriate varieties for this.

3. Are there any diseases in my area that will adversely effect the varieties? Our country has been blessed enough to be kept free from the worst olive diseases. As such, this assessment is not as critical as it would be in the Mediterranean countries.

4. What trials have been done on this variety both in  Australia and overseas? Anybody with a knowledge of olive varieties knows that the way in which a variety responds to one climate or country is not necessarily  how it will respond in another. The more accurate and honest data that you can collect from various sources throughout Australia and the world, then the more reliable your results will be.

There are a number of olive varieties either still in, or just out of quarantine. As with any country, a new variety to Australia must be  tested in Australia before it is safe to plant commercial quantities of it. Make sure that you can get well documented Australian trial data. To some extent any  agricultural crop is a gamble, because your specific property is slightly  different to any other property in Australia or the world. However, you can still make good variety decisions by: speaking to a number of people about the variety, reading a number of sources on the variety, and if possible, visiting a  number of operating orchards.

Remember this also, there is no such  thing as the world's 'best' or most commercially viable  variety of olive. Nor can it be said that one particular tree is the 'best' oil  or table fruit variety in the world. Just like grapes, each variety has its own  characteristics giving it a niche somewhere within the industry. Be extra  careful with any variety that is based around making money for the promoter rather than 100% honesty about the variety's characteristics and yields.

5. Is this variety suited to my  style of orchard management?  The majority of Australia orchards are being planted at a density of  approximately 250 trees per hectare, under irrigation for mechanical harvesting. As such, varietal growth habits, responses to irrigation and suitability to mechanical harvesting must all be taken into account.

6. What is the availability of the variety? Do not decide on a  particular variety simply because it is available at the time you want to plant.  What will your grandchildren think! If you believe that a certain variety is going to be the best for your planned use and climate, then waiting six or eight months for it will well pay for itself in future returns. Although we have a number of excellent varieties available for immediate despatch, we will never  recommend them to a grower if they are not suitable for their planned use or climate.

Planting "with the rains" (autumn and winter in the  Mediterranean climates) is a traditional and quite viable time to plant, however  applied irrigation can very closely replicate this rainfall at other times of  the year. Remember - there are no prizes for people who plant an unsuitable variety six months before the grower who waits for suitable trees.

7.How many varieties will I plant? Most olive varieties are called 'self fertile' or 'self pollinating'. As such, they do not need other varieties around them to ensure good crops. However, cross-pollination is not the main  criteria for planting more than one variety. Factors such as the blending of  varietal oils and final marketing strategies need to be accounted for.

8. Finally, if you have questions  on any variety at all, please contact Greg O’Sullivan at Australis Plants to find out what research has been done over the years. We are in contact with researchers, growers, nurseries and variety specialists throughout the world on a daily basis. We are  not only here to help you with your trees, but also to help with information on various facets of the industry including variety assessment.