June 02, 2005
Olive trees in Texas are still considered an experiment by some. In the north the trees are pestered by deer, frost, gophers and insects. In the south across from the Mexican border trees seem to grow spectacularly, preferring vegetative growth over olive production. There are a few small mills but still not enough olives to keep them busy. There is no shortage of sun and heat of course. Water is usually via wells. This May we visited several of the more established growers to see how they are doing.
Jim Marmion gave a tour of his Moro Creek Ranch near Asherton in 100 degree heat. He was one of the first Texans planting olive trees and now has 19 acres with 2400 trees. Varieties are Tuscan, Mission and Arbequina. Like others, his watering system has been nibbled by varmints.
Jim Marmion of Moro Creek Ranch
Jim Henry of Texas Olive Company in Carizzo has 40,000 Arbequina, Arbosana and Koroneiki high-yield dwarf clones. 8 foot fences keep out hogs, deer and rabbits. He is pumping up to 450 gallons of water per minute from the Carizzo aquifer - which adds up to one million gallons of water per week.
Jim Henry with his high yield clones
In Dilley near the Mexican border, David Anderson demonstrated his 1 acre of 8 yr old Tuscan trees which are now huge and yielding oil. He has a new 10 acre planting of high density Arbequina, Arbosana and Koroneiki. The tour was interrupted by border patrol units chasing several illegal aliens through the orchard. Being this close to the border has its disadvantages. David has a small centrifugal mill made in Italy.
David Anderson on left with his 8 yr olds
Sandy Oaks owner Saundra Winokur originally planted Mission, Manzanillo, Picual, and Frantoio varieties in 1998 in the eponymous soil on her ranch 20 miles south of San Antonio. Sandy now has over 10,000 trees after planting high yield Spanish clones also. She has planted trees from California, Spain and Egypt. She is the Texas sales agent for NursTech, a branch of the multinational Agromillora founded in 1986, the world’s largest supplier of “in vitro” propagated rootstocks and olive plants.
She is experimenting with some more unusual Middle Eastern varieties, olive oil soap, olive oil body care products, etc. She's betting a full line of olive oil products will increase the bottom line. Her sandy soil has been a problem as it holds few natural nutrients.
Saundra Winokur of Sandy Oaks at her nursery operation
Olive oil pioneer Jack Dougherty at First Texas Olive Oil was able to give us a quick tour of his ranch in the hill country of Texas. He was a bit stressed, his Bella Vista Ranch also sports U-Pick blackberry and raspberry fields which were in full fruit, artichoke and asparagus fields, a winery and a working cattle ranch. Oh, and he was attending his son's wedding that afternoon too. He has a small centrifugal mill which he has used for his crop and several other nearby growers and gives tours of the operation with advance notice.
Jack Dougherty of First Texas Olive Oil
His ranch north of the others in the Texas hill country has had to contend with severe weather. On February 28th of 2002 when Jack's trees were still tender, the temperature dropped in one hour from 68 degrees, 70% humidity to below 25 degrees, 20% humidity, damaging all the trees. He now has about 1000 trees of various varieties and sells Mission trees to others. The Mission trees seem to be the most resistant to intense frost pressure.
The Texans are still experimenting with the right varieties and the right amount of fertilizer and water for their soil and climate. Each ranch visited had very different soil, climate and topography. Varmints have forced some to completely bury all watering lines, some are piping fertilizer through the watering system. One thing everyone in Texas seems to agree on is that the preferred mode of transport in the fields is an electric golf cart. Texas will be a real contender with land prices many times lower than the California Napa Valley.