Angelo Leo, of Mongogarie Lodge Olive farm, with a few of the olives that survived last years hail storms.
Angelo Leo, of Mongogarie Lodge Olive farm, with a few of the olives that survived last years hail storms.

Hailstorm the pits for olive growers

By AMANDA SPROULE news@northernstar.com.au WILD weather that slammed the region late last year has decimated local olive production and forced the cancellation of the annual Summerland Olive Festival.

Hailstorms and fierce winds during spring stopped flowers from germinating, meaning no commercial quantities of olives will be produced in the region this year.

Festival co-ordinator, Leicester olive and coffee grower Jan Fadelli, was left with just ‘a chef and olive trees’ to celebrate this year’s olive harvest.

“You can’t have an olive festival without olives,” Ms Fadelli said.

“In the past we pressed local fruit at the festival, but with no fresh olives we can’t do that.”

And there are no hopes for holding the festival later this year either.

“We need to hold the festival at this time of the year, because it’s the harvesting season. It’s a bit of a catch-22,” Ms Fadelli said.

Olive grower Don Leo, of Mongogarie Olives, said that the current wet weather didn’t worry olive growers, but last year’s storms ‘came at the wrong time’.

“With all the storm damage we haven’t really had much of a harvest, so we’ll be looking around for fruit from other regions to process,” Mr Leo said.

His father Angelo Leo, said production at Mongogarie Olives had dropped from 20 tonnes last year to virtually none this year.

“We’ve lost at least $50,000, but we’re in a position where it’s a kind of hobby for us and we have other income to rely on,” Angelo said.

Despite the devastation of local olives, president of the Summerland Olive Association, Peter Cameron, believes growers aren’t destined for financial ruin just yet.

“The olive industry here is quite young, so the trees are just not mature enough to produce large quantities of olives and most growers will have a second income to rely on,” he said.

However, the festival cancellation will have a significant impact on the Summerland Olive Association and the olive processing plant at Casino.

“The festival is a marketing thing, and provides the association with the majority of its income for the following year,” Mr Cameron said. He said the ‘produce factor’ was the main reason for cancelling the festival.

Production at Mr Cameron’s property has plummeted from 2.5 tonnes per year to ‘a few hundred kilos at the most’.

“Nobody I’ve talked to has anything,” Mr Cameron said. He estimates there are about ‘25 growers in the region’ with around ‘several thousand trees’ under cultivation.

The only thing these growers can look forward to is a better season next year.

Ms Fadelli is already planning for the next Summerland Olive Festival and is hoping to turn the event into a bi-annual event.

“Hopefully we’ll have a better season next time,” she said. Ms Fadelli is also on the hunt for a site for the 2009 Summerland Olive Festival. If you have an olive grove and are able to host the festival, contact her on 6629 3229.



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