Dec 192013

For many months the report on olive oil competition by the United States International Trade Commission (USITC) has been sitting on my desk waiting to be read. I wasn’t dreading the several days of reading and note-taking that lay ahead. I was waiting – waiting for the North American Olive Oil Association (NAOOA) to weigh in on the report findings (see below for the letter from the NAOOA to the USITC hearing Chair). I simply wanted my reading and assessment experience to be complete.

Why is this important?

It is important because there is a distinct political and economic battle going on in the world of olive oil. It is important because with any battle, knowledge is required: Who are the combatants? Who are their allies? What weapons do they currently have at their disposal? What weapons can they acquire? Where are the battlegrounds and where are they moving? What are supporters and opponents weaknesses and strengths? What will be the collateral damage? Is the battle worth it? …

As I pack my bags for my journey to the Olive Crazy family Christmas gathering, I am preparing a list of questions to ask myself while I read through the hundreds of pages of testimony that led to the USITC report Olive Oil: Conditions of Competition between U.S. and Major Foreign Supplier Industries, the report itself, and the report responses. What was the purpose of the USITC hearing? Who actually influenced the setting up of the hearings and what did they hope to accomplish? What factors separate bias from fact from fiction in the testimony, among the hearing panelists, and among the report authors? Do the report findings match the purpose of the hearings? Why did each individual and organization testify or respond to the report as they did? Why did the NAOOA wait until now to respond to the report? What happens next? …

Of course I bring my own biases to the reading. Those biases can easily be found in my opinion articles. Yet years of political and military training and execution have taught me that long-term success cannot be achieved without a multidimensional perspective free of bias.

Before I place all those pages of documentation in my computer bag and engage in some light holiday reading I make a promise to myself and to you to carry forward with an open mind. It won’t be easy but it must be done.

May the sun shine through your branches.

NAOOA response to USITC report page 1

NAOOA response to USITC report page 1

NAOOA response to USITC report page 2

NAOOA response to USITC report page 2

NAOOA Response to USITC report page 3

NAOOA Response to USITC report page 3

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.

Sep 192011

When you read the history of the US/California olive industry, it is a multi-century saga of small successes followed by big defeats. These defeats are frequently politically-motivated and are not made by foreign governments, but by the US government and both dominant US political parties. Here are three examples:

Beating # 1. After World War II, the US was positioned to be the world leader in olive oil and table olive production. The reason was that the war-devastated, Mediterranean, olive-producing countries could not produce sufficient fruit to satisfy the world market at that time. In a short-sighted series of blunders, Presidents Truman (D) and Eisenhower (R) and their Congresses (D and R), gave world-wide authority to the newly formed United Nations, and blessed the subsidization of olive oil by the European countries that formed their price-control cabal, the International Olive Oil Council n/k/a International Olive Council (IOC).

Beating # 2. It’s 2008 and the olive fruit fly is plaguing the revived, US olive industry. The pest, which rarely gets out-of-control in Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa, has found a happy home in California and is busily munching away. US olive industry revival stands to take a huge hit. US Congressman Mike Thomas (D) asks for money in the Congressional budget to conduct scientific research on the olive fruit fly (this is normal procedure for all Members of Congress). Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (R) is running for US Vice President and attacks this and other scientific, research projects as pork barrel spending. Democrats and Republicans alike jump on the band wagon and the fruit fly munches on.

Beating # 3. Now, in 2011, the “Arab Spring” revolutions are slowly winding down. Again, US politicians are ignorantly taking another swing at the suffering US olive industry. The current President (D) and Congress (R) are planning on propping up another country’s olive industry to the possible damage of their own. Here is an important article, a must-read by Stacy Finz of the San Francisco Chronicle: “U.S. aid to Morocco worries California olive farmers“.

Who’s to blame for US political ignorance about it’s own olive industry? Get ready – the US olive industry is to blame. There is no organized US effort to educate and lobby Congress. Sure, the small, thinly-stretched, olive-knowledgeable, California, academic population tries to make a go at this, but their attempts only highlight the olive industry’s failure to establish itself as a “force” in the real center of US political power, Washington, DC. The US olive industry, without a strong national organization ready to behave as the “power broker” it should be, is just another industry marketing a boutique fruit. California may be the place where most of the trees and knowledge are, but it has consistently shown it is not the place where political power develops.

International, commercial olive production is expanding rapidly. The Mediterranean basin olive-producing countries are weak, but are fighting hard to expand into new territories and revive old markets. All this is going on while the US olive industry focuses on its navel and weeps fat, briny tears of self pity. I have no patience for this display. If the US olive industry is unwilling to put up the money necessary to create a real organization, lobby Congress, and market their product in this country, which happens to be the largest potential market for olive oil specifically (the IOC knows this), then they deserve to sputter along for another couple hundred years tagged as a perpetually-emerging market.

Power broker or hobbyist – you decide.

May the sun shine through your branches.