Apr 132012

This past Wednesday, Adam Englehardt of California Olive Ranch gave a two-part presentation to members of the Georgia Olive Growers Association, some Florida growers, USDA employees, Congressional staffers, and other involved parties. The first part of the presentation was data to support the proposed marketing order and the second part was a section by section look at the order.

No, I’m not going to divulge any aspects of the actual marketing order. I am honor-bound not to do so and while that doesn’t mean much to some folks, it does to me.

What I am going to do is identify what I have determined is a fly in the ointment of the proposed US olive oil marketing order. The ‘fly’ is small and annoying right now but after feasting on distrust and resulting ill-will has the potential of tanking the marketing order. It makes me wonder – naivete or plan?

Prior to the presentation and meeting on Wednesday I had no opinion about the order. After reading the proposed marketing order and after considering the options and opportunities it presents for the United States olive industry I support the concept. The language is still rough and some crucial pieces are missing.

During Adam’s first presentation, I began to hear the fly. Throughout it the buzzing got louder and finally subsided when he launched into the marketing order section review. Then all of a sudden the buzzing started again and the fly began to furiously circle the room.

So Olive Crazy what does the fly represent? The fly is the niggle in the back of your brain. It is the hair standing up on your arms or the back of your neck. It is the bad omen. It is the sign of danger.

I have had and in some cases still enjoy successful careers in the military, politics, and business. Not only do I make sure I am well-educated in the areas in which I operate; can implement what I know at strategic and tactical levels; but I have great instincts and I trust them. The fly in this article is representing my instinct that some things aren’t adding up and these things, unless resolved now, will cause trouble.

Here are a few of those things:

  1. Spain is the largest exporter of olive oil in the world (not Italy – they’ve got a bottling scheme going on which makes people think they are).
  2. Spain is a charter member of the International Olive Council (IOC) which is controlled by olive oil mega corporations who have been identified as exporters of fake olive oil (seed oils masquerading as olive oil) and/or low-grade olive oil masquerading as extra virgin olive oil.
  3. Spanish investors started California Olive Ranch in the 1990s and still hold the reins.
  4. The California Olive Ranch is carrying the ball for the marketing order.
  5. The California Olive Ranch, with limited input, has created a national olive oil trade association, hired a lobbyist at the federal level, and have already commenced lobbying even though there is no record of lobbyist registration.
  6. A representative from Agromillora, Spain’s largest olive grower, was sitting in the room with us during Adam’s presentation.
  7. Adam Englehardt, who I genuinely like, claims to be politically naive, yet is making politically-sensitive decisions for an entire industry.

There are more items I could add to this list, my intention is not to sabotage the olive oil marketing order process but to alert United States olive oil stakeholders of pending problems, which can be fixed. The marketing order process is 10% business and 90% political. The 90% includes governmental, business, and personality driven politics. Strategic errors are being made which will destroy the best efforts of American olive growers and olive oil producers to enter, in any meaningful way, the global olive oil business, much less combat a cracking, but still powerful, Europe-based world olive oil trade.

If the market order process isn’t done properly the consumers of the world’s largest potential olive oil market, the east coast of the United States, will still have to buy price-altered, fake and low-quality imported olive oil, while US olive oil is relegated to the annals of agriculture as a quaint novelty.

May the sun shine through your branches.


Apr 102012

The Jordan Olive Products Exporters Association (JOPEA) is having its biannual JOTEX aka JOPTEX exhibition on April 25 and 26, 2012 at King Hussein Sports City in Amman, Jordan. Olive producing and exporting companies and olive technology suppliers from Jordan, Italy, Palestine, Turkey, Lebanon and Egypt will be showcasing their products.

Here are the details:

May the sun shine through your branches.


Apr 072012

I want to pass on another great bit of information about an olive business event in Georgia that is happening THIS WEEK.

Members of the fledgling US east coast olive growing and olive oil producing industries have the chance to participate in a “business-changing” event with global implications. If you are already involved or even thinking about becoming involved in growing olives for olive oil production or are interested in just the olive oil production side of the business you must attend the presentation and discussion of the proposed federal olive oil marketing order.

This important presentation and discussion will be held on Wednesday, April 11, 2012 at the University of Georgia’s, National Environmentally Sound Production Agriculture Laboratory (NESPAL) Building, 2356 Rainwater Road, Tifton, GA 31793.

If you plan to attend, please contact  Beth Oleson, Executive Director of the Georgia Olive Growers Association, by email at georgiaolivegrowers@asginfo.net or by phone at (706) 845-9085.

There is supposed to be a Google Map to the location just beneath these words but I noticed that sometimes I need to refresh my webpage to see the map. In case the map doesn’t show up or refresh doesn’t work, I added a link to the map in the address just above.

View Larger Map

May the sun shine through your branches.


Jan 182012

Tomorrow is an important beginning to what I hope will become a powerful, well-run, and quality-centric industry in the United States – the olive oil industry. In Dixon, California at the Fairgrounds olive growers and olive oil processors will meet to begin the process of establishing a marketing order for olive oil. According to the sponsors, one of which I know is NursTech, the Spanish-owned super high density (SHD) olive tree supplier, this 1st Annual Olive Oil Conference is free to attend.

I saw this conference advertised over the last few weeks and decided to educate myself on marketing orders. One very important thing I learned is that there is a marketing order for table olives grown in California, but none for any table olives grown outside California, and no marketing order or agreement in the US for olive oil. I guess with so many folks in California growing olives for oil and with growers and processors now cropping up in other states the time has arrived to organize (not in the labor union sense).

Here is some of what I have learned from the Agricultural Marketing Service of the United States Department of Agriculture and from the National Agriculture Law Center located at the University of Arkansas. It’s dry reading but I am convinced, after my research, that in order to have a strong olive oil industry the US growers and processors must engage in this procedure.

Marketing Orders and Agreements: “Marketing agreements and orders are initiated by industry to help provide stable markets for dairy products, fruits, vegetables and specialty crops. Marketing orders help to maintain the quality of produce being marketed, standardize packages or containers, and authorized advertising, research and market development. Each order and agreement is tailored to the individual industry’s marketing needs.”

Fruit, Vegetable and Specialty Crop Marketing Orders:

“Federal marketing orders are locally administered by committees made up of growers and/or handlers, and often a member of the public. Marketing order regulations, initiated by industry and enforced by USDA, bind the entire industry in the geographical area regulated if approved by producers and the Secretary of Agriculture.

Marketing orders and agreements (1) maintain the high quality of produce that is on the market; (2) standardize packages and containers; (3) regulate the flow of product to market; (4) establish reserve pools for storable commodities; and (5) authorize production research, marketing research and development, and advertising.

Marketing agreements and orders are legal instruments authorized by the Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act of 1937 and in subsequent amendments. The Secretary of Agriculture is vested with the power to exercise the use of these instruments to regulate the marketing of eligible commodities — fruits, vegetables, specialty crops, and milk — in certain clearly specified ways. Marketing orders help fruit and vegetable growers work together to solve marketing problems that they cannot solve individually. They help balance the availability of quality product with the need for adequate returns to producers and the demands of consumers.

Marketing orders are binding on all individuals and businesses who are classified as “handlers” in the geographic area covered by the order. Marketing orders are distinguished from marketing agreements, which are binding only on handlers who are signatories of the agreements. The definition of handler and handling depends on the particular program. As defined in most agreements and orders, a handler is anyone who receives the commodity from producers, grades and packs it, transports, or places the commodity in commercial channels. Handlers must comply with the grade, size, quality, volume, or other requirements established under the program.

All marketing orders are initiated by producers. Producers have an active role in the development of program provisions and support them at hearings. Approval by a two-thirds or larger majority (three-fourths of California citrus producers) by number or volume represented in a referendum is required before any program is implemented or amended.

For fruit, vegetable, and specialty crop marketing orders, local committees of farmers and handlers – appointed by the Secretary of Agriculture – administer the orders. Committee expenses, as set forth in budgets approved by USDA, are defrayed by assessments on handlers. Generally, any excess funds are set aside in a reserve fund for future needs, but they may be credited to handlers’ accounts against future assessments or returned to handlers at the end of each marketing season upon request.

Committees employ staffs to administer order provisions (e.g., collect assessments, assemble reports, oversee compliance with order provisions), and must maintain the confidentiality of all information submitted by handlers. Committees actively work with all handlers to explain marketing order requirements and to advise them on any particular concerns the handlers may have. Also, committees issue periodic instructions – written in plain English – and provide pertinent dates to comply with any required assessment payments, report submissions, or other program requirements. Committees place a special emphasis on helping small businesses that are handlers regulated under their programs for the first time.”

Steps to Establish a Marketing Order:

“The industry meets to identify mutual marketing problems and determine whether a marketing order could help the industry solve these problems. During these discussions, USDA staff may help the industry identify marketing order authorities relevant to the industry’s problems.

1. If there is general industry support for a program, a preliminary proposal is prepared by a steering committee of key industry people. Growers and shippers are included in discussions on the proposal.

2. A list of industry growers and handlers is developed by proponents. Next a request for a hearing on the proposal is sent to the Administrator of AMS. It should indicate the degree of industry support, the problems the program would address, and suggest a possible hearing site and approximate date.

3. AMS reviews the request and supporting documents, as well as any alternative proposals from interested parties. During this period, the staff of USDA is free to discuss the merits of elements included in any proposal with the industry.

4. A Notice of Public Hearing is then issued, and it is published at least 15 days before the hearing. USDA staff can comment only on procedural questions after this point.

5. A USDA Administrative Law Judge presides at the public hearing and a verbatim record is compiled of the testimony of opponents, proponents and others, including USDA personnel. Because proponents bear the burden of proof, they must present evidence to support the need for the program, and every provision in it. Briefs arguing for particular decisions may be filed with USDA after the hearing.

6. A recommended decision is issued by USDA based on hearing evidence. This is USDA’s formal recommendation on the proposal. Persons are allowed to file exceptions to it for a set time period.

7. After consideration of all exceptions to the recommended decision, USDA prepares a final decision. If it is favorable, a grower referendum is held on the proposal.

8. While producers are voting, copies of a companion marketing agreement are sent to handlers for their signature. Through their signatures on the agreement, handlers indicate their intention to abide by the terms of the program.

9. If at least two thirds of the growers voting by number or by volume approve the proposal, the Secretary of Agriculture issues the marketing order.

This process may take up to one and one-half years to complete, depending on the complexity of the proposal, the size of the industry, and the availability of resources within the industry and USDA to devote to the proposed program.

Here is the link to the National Agricultural Law Center Reading Room on Marketing Orders. It has current legislative, regulatory, and case law. I really enjoyed reading up on marketing orders here. I love this stuff.

Now you can be an expert on Marketing Orders. Have fun.

May the sun shine through your branches.


Jan 122012

As soon as possible after stepping off a plane last Thursday, I tossed some clothes in the laundry, kissed Mr. Olive Crazy and the little olives hello and goodnight, and caught a few hours of sleep. Early the next morning I packed my car with the backpack I travelled to and from Florida with a few weeks ago and the toiletry bag I had to leave behind when I flew. I headed for Savannah and the Southeastern Fruit and Vegetable Conference.

It was tough to leave my family again but I was excited about seeing my farm-country buddies, especially the guys from Batten Tractor in Douglas, Georgia and from Oxbo International, a specialty harvester company with several locations around the US. I was also excited about attending the first Olive Educational Session to be held at the Conference.

While I waited in line at registration I looked around to see who I knew. I spotted extension agents, the Governor’s agriculture liaison, a couple of Congressional aides, a clump of blueberry growers, and some organic composting folks. Under normal circumstances I would have made the rounds, shakin’ hands, and howdy doin’, but I was on a mission. I needed to get to the Olive Session on time and get a good spot.

Inside the room I selected an aisle seat with an unobstructed view of the podium. Perfect. Now I was free to have lunch and wander about until the session began. I saw lots of friends and collected a whole bunch of cheek kisses. I also contributed my fair share too.

On the way back from the cheek kissing frenzy I ran into Paul Miller, the President of the Australian Olive Association. He was looking non the worse for wear considering all the world travelling he does in the name of olive oil quality, truth, justice and the insert-your-country-here way.

Paul was one of the presenters at the Olive Educational Session. Even though I had met Paul before, I had never heard him speak. I was looking forward to his presentation.

By the time the Session started the room was packed. Dr. Mark Hanley of Georgia Olive Growers Association and Jason Shaw of Georgia Olive Farms were two of the first speakers up. After dignitary shout-outs and thanks to helpful people, the educational part got underway.

Jason talked about the timeline of Georgia Olive Farms attempts to grow olives in the southeast. I’ve heard him make this speech several times and I still enjoy it.

Then came Kevin Shaw who, along with his cousin, Sam spends most of his time in the groves. Kevin went into detail about how Georgia Olive Farms consulted with specialists, selected the site, prepared the soil, and planted the trees. He talked about the tree and row distances they used, staking and trellising, and the fertigation system they employed. He then spoke about the years of care and worrying – the disasters (real and feared) and successes. He finished his speech by explaining harvesting trial and error, milling, and an extra virgin olive oil product that was not nearly enough to meet a fraction of market demand.

Kevin’s speech was honest. “This is farming,” he said – plain and simple. Even though olives grow in California and Texas there is no playbook for growing in the southeastern United States. It is a risk, but a risk Kevin and his cousins felt was worth taking.

The audience had lots of questions. I could tell from the type of questions that these were growers who were excited but cautious. Many had been burned before by promises of amazing results and big profits, and the Shaws did not make any promises. I thought that took a lot of restraint from guys who are distributors of the Super High Density (SHD) varieties available in the United States sold by the California company, Nurstech.

Next up was Paul Miller. Paul talked about the marketability in the United States of high quality olive oil, gave US market probability data, and acreage projections in the southeast. He talked about the world olive oil market and coming changes. His speech was full of great information. I would love to hear the long version of it sometime.

Just before the end of the Session was near, a couple of olive growers gave testimonials. Normally I would have zoned out at this part but one of the testimonials involved USDA funding that was sought by one of the growers. After initial approval the USDA denied the funding. The grower appealed and won. This was some news I had been waiting for and was pleased to hear.

I left the room having been “olive educated” and wanting more. As I walked through the convention center corridors headed for cocktails with my tractor and harvester buddies I thought about how I could synthesize all I learned and share it with you. I realized that synthesizing the information would not be useful. I decided that I will take certain aspects of the speeches, research those aspects and expand on them in separate articles.

The worldwide olive and olive oil industries are expanding and changing, some parts slowly and some parts very fast. I am committed to keeping up with what’s happening and keeping you informed.

May the sun shine through your branches.