The water-policy debate in California, more often than not, ignores the fact that the lion’s share of water (hmm, that doesn’t really make sense, but…) goes to agriculture, and in particular to crops such as rice and cotton that really shouldn’t be grown in an arid state.
This is a good move, though the acreage is minuscule compared to major crops (a quick check shows more than half a million acres of rice in California in 2004).
An oil boom is underway in the state’s agricultural heartland, as evolving tastes and a trend toward healthy fare have transformed a profession as old as civilization: olive production for the extra virgin market.
Gnarly trees picked by hand are being supplanted. This year California’s olive oil production will top 1 million gallons for the first time, the lion’s share from 8-foot trees planted in hedgerows and mechanically harvested, then pressed into oil within 90 minutes.
Growers have invested millions laying the groundwork to become a player in the global olive oil market, now controlled by Spain, Italy and Greece.
In the past 10 years, roughly 7.5 million trees have been tightly planted on 12,500 acres, an experiment growers hope will make California olive oil cheaper and fresher than that of their competitors. State officials estimate that in another decade there will be 100,000 acres of hedgerow trees producing 20 million gallons of oil to help sate Americans’ 75 million gallons-a-year thirst — 99.99 percent of it now imported.