Southeast Olive Growers Set to Meet

By Allison Floyd

Thursday, April 18th, 2013

Georgia’s olive growers will get together in a couple of weeks for their annual meeting – a gathering that’s grown beyond just the handful of men who wanted to bring back a crop lost to the South 100 years ago.

“It gets bigger and bigger every year,” said Vicki Hughes, the executive director of the Georgia Olive Growers Association. “Our membership is growing every year.”

It’s only been a couple of years since Georgia Olive Farms harvested the first olives grown in Georgia in more than a century. (Olives were grown in the Southeast during Colonial times, but the last of the trees were destroyed in the late 1800s.)

After that 2011 harvest and flurry of media about it, farmers started thinking about the potential of olives – especially this time of year.

“My phone has been ringing off the hook for the past few weeks,” said Hughes, who speaks to two to six farmers a day about olive growing.

Spring makes growers think about what they would like to do different this year, and they know olive trees need three years to mature.

“Olives are a thing that you have to plan ahead a little,” she said.

As the trees mature, so is the industry in the South. The agenda of the growers association shows that change. 

Kimberly Holding of the American Olive Oil Producers Association will give the keynote address to both new and experienced growers, as well as researchers and businesses that might benefit from a healthy olive industry. Legislative updates will be provided by Paul Miller of the Australian Olive Association and Jason Shaw of Georgia Olive Farms.

Still the growers association recognizes that the industry is small – only about 250 acres in Georgia are planted with olive trees – and they don’t want to drive interested growers away. The price to attend the conference is only $50 for members of the association and $100 for non-members.

“Some of the people who will be there are experienced growers; some are not experienced. Some are people who are considering planting trees; some people who want to put groves in for agribusiness,” Hughes said.

More and more olive trees are planted each spring, Hughes said, from Florida to north Georgia. Farmers are keeping an eye on some trees just outside of Atlanta that may show the northern boundary for the trees.

The Georgia Olive Growers Association annual meeting and conference is May 10 at Threatte Center in Lakeland, Ga. For more information contact Vicki Hughes at (229) 300-9931 or georgiaolivegrowers@gmail.com. To register, visit this link.

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