News / USA

Warm-Weather Olive Trees Crop up in Snowy Oregon

Farmer's ingenuity allows him to persevere despite setbacks

After surviving snows and freezes that killed off several thousand other trees, this arbequina tree is producing a good crop of olives.
After surviving snows and freezes that killed off several thousand other trees, this arbequina tree is producing a good crop of olives.

Multimedia

Audio
Deena Prichep

A Mediterranean crop is springing up in the most unlikely of places - rainy, snowy Oregon.

Paul Durant farms with his parents on the rolling hills of Dundee, Oregon. For several decades, they've grown pinot noir, pinot gris and chardonnay grapes. And now, they're starting to grow arbequina, leccino and frantoio olives. Yes, olives. Durant has heard plenty of skepticism.

"What are you doing? It's not a Mediterranean climate. These are Mediterranean trees," says Durant, echoing the critics. "This is a Mediterranean crop. Why would you think you could ever pull it off?"

Not only did Durant want to diversify, he also saw an economic opportunity in olive trees. The United States is the third-largest consumer of olive oil overall behind Italy and Spain. Americans consume up to 80 million gallons per year, but produce fewer than one million gallons domestically.

Rough start

Durant started planting olives six years ago, and now has about 13,000 trees. But he's learned firsthand how rough it can be. Two years ago, storms dumped a meter of snow on his trees. And last year, the temperature dropped to a very un-Mediterranean minus-13 degrees.

A row of young olive saplings, called “whips,” have been planted in a field with more established trees.
A row of young olive saplings, called “whips,” have been planted in a field with more established trees.

"Up here we probably lost 30 percent [of our trees]. Down below in areas it was probably a 90% kill rate," he says. "It was really tough. And the thing of it is, it's not like you knew it right away. So it was all spring, waiting, are they going to come back, are they going to come back? They're not coming back."

Durant took note of which olives made it through, and adjusted his planting. And, thanks to his engineering background, he's suiting up the trees for the next time the temperature drops below freezing.

"It sounds crazy. We're procuring thousands of feet of pipe insulation, and we're gonna put little insulating sleeves around our little trees," he says. "If it's 15 [-9] degrees out, and we can get a few more degrees of cold tolerance, we think we'll be okay."

Durant has a few other backup plans, which include flooding the fields with water to insulate the ground and tree roots and using large fans to blow warmer air from the upper fields to the colder lower fields.

Steep learning curve

But it's not just about managing the temperature. There's a lot to learn about all aspects of farming a new crop, from pollinating to pressing. Durant learned that the hard way, when some of his Arbequina olives didn't really turn out olive-sized.

This arbequina suffers from the “shot berry” phenomenon, producing tiny bb-sized olives as a likely result of poor pollination.
This arbequina suffers from the “shot berry” phenomenon, producing tiny bb-sized olives as a likely result of poor pollination.

"What we were seeing was a shot berry, it's called, about the size of a bb," he says. "Arbequinas are supposed to be self-pollinating, but reality is they're probably not."

Durant is solving that problem by planting a variety of olives in each field to cross-pollinate each other.

Despite all of these hurdles, Durant's committed to seeing the trees through. He says he'll even spread pollen with a feather duster if he has to, before the rains wash it away. He figures these early days will be difficult. But he hopes they'll learn the ins and outs, put more wood on the trees, and build an industry. And when Durant is feeling discouraged, he just looks to his dad.

"We planted wine grapes in 1973, probably was 20 of us that used to meet in the fire hall and compare notes," says Ken Durant. "A lot of experimentation to find the right clones, the right root stocks, that would prosper and create world class wines."

Weathering the storm

After all that trial and error, the Durant family now grows about 24 hectares of wine grapes. And Paul Durant is hoping his olive trees will have the same success someday.

"We're only six years into this experiment with olives, and we need to be patient. We just need to be good farmers, and figure out how to make this work. And the oil that we have made off our trees has been fantastic oil."

The Durants just finished pressing more 900 kilos of their olives for oil, nearly double last year's harvest. And they're looking ahead to an even better harvest next year. They've already slipped insulation sleeves on nearly 2,000 trees, to help them weather the coming snows.


You May Like

Mood Tense Ahead of Scotland Independence Vote

As race to persuade undecided voters continues, No voters say they believe life in Scotland will slowly improve and do not want to take a risk by endorsing independence More

South Africa’s 'Open Mosque' Admits Everyone, Including Critics

Open Mosque founder plans to welcome gay worshipers and allow women to lead prayers More

Ukrainian Activist in Despair About Future of Her Country

IrIna Dovgan, accused of being a spy and tortured by pro-Russian separatists, is appealing to UN Human Rights Council to support her country More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Spacei
X
September 17, 2014 4:20 AM
The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.
Video

Video Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Community

Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.
Video

Video Washington DC Mural Artists Help Beautify City

Like many cities, Washington has a graffiti problem. Buildings and homes, especially in low-income neighborhoods, are often targets of illegal artwork. But as we hear from VOA’s Julie Taboh, officials in the nation's capital have come up with an innovative program that uses the talents of local artists to beautify the city.
Video

Video US Muslim Leaders Condemn Islamic State

Leaders of America's Muslim community are condemning the violent extremism of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. Muslim leaders say militants are exploiting their faith in a failed effort to justify violent extremism. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Bedouin Woman Runs Successful Business in Palestinian City

A Bedouin woman is breaking social taboos by running a successful vacation resort in the Palestinian town of Jericho. Bedouins are a sub-group of Arabs known for their semi-nomadic lifestyle. Zlatica Hoke says the resort in the West Bank's Jordan Valley is a model of success for women in the region.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid