Olives growing in Texas

Jim Henry has been waiting a long time for a year like this - when the weather was as perfect as can be expected, and olives were collected from the 40,000 trees per ton. It was what I dreamed about when I started planting olive trees in Texas in the early 1990, and was told by almost everyone asked what I was dreaming the impossible dream.

[Despite the disappointment of others, Jim Henry pushed forward with his plan for growing olives in Texas. After some trial and error, he finally found success. - Courtesy] photo

Despite the disappointment of others, Jim Henry pushed forward with his plan for growing olives in Texas. After some trial and error, he finally found success. - Courtesy photo
The dream that began as an observation, then an idea, and eventually became the Texas ranch olive oil in Carrizo Springs, Texas Olive Oil Council and a potential crop for farmers in parts of Texas, where climate usually be trusted to cooperate. Henry believes that garnered nearly three tons of olives this year, by far, the most it has produced. Proved to be "one of those years" - but in a good way.

"The two years were less than perfect, but this year we had a spectacular time and the amount of rain," said Henry. "It was really a once in a lifetime crop."

The harvest began in September amid a certain amount of fanfare. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and Texas Olive Oil Council held a seminar on September 14 and 15 that included an appearance by state Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples. There was no fanfare in 1994 when Henry planted the first olive trees in Texas, and there was little support for agriculture extension agents and researchers.

Henry, a successful Dallas businessman, had spent a good amount of time in Spain and Europe during his career and wondered why not see the olive trees in his native Texas. When asked they said it was because they do not grow here.

"I was young and the spacecraft," he said. "It made sense to me. I had all these so called experts telling me that could not be done, but there was no research to support that. I do not know what she would say something like, based on the view and translates it as fact. I watched a little more, and decided to give it a try. "

Henry planted the first trees near Marble Falls, but the planting was not. The problem turned out to be wrong varieties bad weather - freezing over with young trees before they could begin. His experiments began to click when he bought land near Carrizo Springs and planted varieties of Spanish and Greek rather than Italian. Young trees survived the relatively mild winters of the Middle Rio Grande Valley and the varieties selected in the first place Arbequina, along with some Aubosana and Koroneiki, proved to be well adapted to soils of the area and climate.

"There is no conspiracy, no secret to him," said Henry. "It's the right variety in the right climate. That's all it is."

For the person contemplating growing olives for the first time, there is much more than that, Henry knows that after having crossed paths only olive. Texas Olive Oil Council was founded to promote the industry and promote research and information base for others who want to plant olive trees. He spends a lot of his time these days not only encourage other producers, but often sold to the trees and planting them, if they prefer.

Olive Several other operations have begun in recent years, including Farrell Olive Ranch in Cotula, Conly Olive Orchard in Asherton, Bella Vista Ranch in Wimberley, and Olive Anderson Orchard in Dilley. Most of them are located south of Johnson City and Marble Falls. Central Texas Olive Ranch in Walburg, is the northernmost of new olive groves, and faced a huge challenge last winter when the temperature hovered near double digits in two nights.

"We said all we could play out would be a period of time freezing, where the temperature was in the teens or single digits for several hours," said co-owner Josh Swafford. "That's exactly what happened, but we did. Lit the fire and had large fans blowing the smoke over the trees, which protected them somewhat. We ended up losing a few trees, maybe four or five percent, but others came to through well. "

"I was worried about them when I found out how cold it was doing in Walburg," said Henry. "I was afraid to call them, because to be honest, a kind of expect the worst. The only thing you can not control the weather, and knew they were in I do not know if people realize what is remarkable is that they were able to save trees. Once they mature, will not be as susceptible to frost, but young trees are very vulnerable. "

Swafford and his grandfather, Curtis Mickan, benefited greatly from the experience of Henry, because they were also told that the olives do not grow in Texas, especially in the north central Texas. Henry said he hopes that future producers will have a place to get reliable, researched information about the olives in Texas. The Texas Department of Agriculture and the Texas Olive Oil Council have joined forces to fund a research program at Texas Tech University in the value and management of the olives in Texas.

Henry olives go directly from the field to an oil press to extract the oil. It sells extra virgin olive oil and proudly points to a study by scientists at the Agricultural Research Service in Weslaco, Texas, which tested extra virgin olive oil against the importation of commercial varieties. The study concluded that the olive oil ranch in Texas was the highest quality oils from California, Italy, Spain, Greece, Argentina and Tunisia. Its oil out qualified as "extra virgin", where some of the other oils that are sold as extra virgin olive oil, did not.

The degree - virgin olive oil - is important to him and important to consumers as it is considered the purest and highest quality of oil available and sold at a premium. Henry says that half of the olive oils sold in supermarkets as extra virgin and is not expected that a recent labeling law passed by Congress will help consumers make more informed decisions.

"It's like wine," said Henry. "If you buy a $ 4.99 bottle of red table wine in the store and look at their ingredients, is what you expect. If you buy a $ 40 bottle of Merlot, the label is going to prove that 90 percent Merlot and 10 percent Cabernet was bottled in 2007 in Napa Valley.

"Without any labeling of the law, you can get the Mediterranean olive oil being mixed with who knows what and sold as extra virgin. There is no way that consumers really know what they're buying."

Domestic olive oil is a new concept not only in Texas, but in this country. Americans buy about 500 million gallons of olive oil a year, but only one percent of the olive oil comes from America, and most of that one percent is grown in California.

Now that he and other pioneers are showing that olive olives can be grown in Texas, Henry hopes that the booming market and also expects a flood of foreign investors and producers in the coming years are likely to purchase land Texas instead of California because the land is cheaper and the state's economy is in better shape.

The Texas Department of Agriculture put the number of trees in the state by about 850,000, but Henry knows that the number will increase because it is to plant 140 thousand olive trees Hansen ranch near La Pryor. He expects to have to plant completed by the end of March. It is also plant some fruit trees in Mexico, and a growing number of Texans are in contact with him about the purchase of trees.

"As an industry, I think you can expect to see two million trees here before much longer," he said. "I think we will see the Spanish who come into Texas and bring large international corporations to Texas, just because the price will be much better in Texas than in California. We have water, minerals and our state is not broken."

Henry's success and the increasing number of people who are planting olive trees in Texas has attracted the attention of filmmakers. The documentary "Olive Roads of Texas" is scheduled to show on PBS stations nationwide in March.

"There is much interest in the olives," said Henry. "You will see more commercial olive operations in the coming years .. I'm sure people say it is too risky and is a gamble, but agriculture is always a gamble at the end, almost always comes down to time. "

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