The Road to Harvest, Episode 2: Ciriaco
BY FRANCESCA VAN SOEST JUNE 5th, 2020
Our first interview in the Road to Harvest series is with Ciriaco Chavez, Cobram Estates Chief Technical Officer. Ciriaco has a wide range of involvement in many facets of not only our company but also in the California olive oil industry as a whole. He sits on the board for organizations such as the California Olive Oil Council (COOC) and the Olive Oil Commission of California (OOCC) and he is also an active member of the research committee in the OOCC and sits on the UC Davis Research Advisory Board.
How would you define your role?
My role is interesting because it was a role that was designed in Australia and therefore not many people have heard the title Senior Technical Officer. My role is similar to that of an architect. This means that I put the plans and the blueprints together for how the groves will be designed and for how the year of planting and managing the trees will go. Some questions that I look at are what is the absolute ideal world for the crops and the trees? How can we maximize our crops? What do we need to do for the health of our trees? You could say that I am a bit of a dreamer and sometimes have to be grounded by our Field Manager, Jordan, because unfortunately what is perfectly ideal is not always perfectly practical for our groves. Jordan then takes the plans that we have worked on and he implements them in the grove. Another large part of my role is working with and helping our partner growers optimize their crop yields. At Cobram USA, we are lucky enough to not only be planting and growing our own trees but also working with growers that have existing groves and helping them manage them.
Can you tell us a bit more about your involvement in the olive oil industry?
Well, first and foremost I am a fierce advocate for California farms. I work closely with our growers, and I feel like my role allows me to really understand their needs within the industry and this allows me to better advocate them to the relevant committees. I really believe that California farms need to be supported, and that we should all be working on eating locally to support our neighbors. I also believe that olives for olive oil are poised to be the crop of the future in California because of their lower requirement of water, fertilizers, pesticides, and resources than other crops. I am also happy to support the fact that the California industry currently upholds the highest quality standards for Extra Virgin Olive Oil in the world, which was a feat that was difficult to implement but has resulted in a huge increase in the quality of the product on our shelves. Growers receive over 2 times more return per gallon than their European counterparts because of the high-quality standards they are forced to meet. This premium is recognized by the public and allows farmers to make a living on their crops, which is getting harder and harder to do for a lot of farmers.
What is going on in the groves now?
We are currently monitoring the fruit set. Today, I was going through the groves to monitor how much of the blossoms got fertilized and how the fruit was setting. This helps us better understand what pollination success is like in the groves. We are also focusing on providing the trees with the precise amount of water that they need in this critical time of development. We have extremely rigorous and advance irrigation monitoring techniques, including soil probes, water loss from evaporation and transpiration, satellite imagery, and visual assessments. This all helps us be as efficient as possible with our resource management to better preserve our existing wells and water tables. Just as a comparison, olives require about half the amount of water per acre than almond trees, just another reason that olives are the crop of the future!
How does the crop look for 2020?
Given that last year was a heavily cropping year and olives are alternate bearing we are expecting slightly less of a crop than last year, however not nearly as low as it was in the horrific crop of 2018. On the plus side, because the crop volume will be a little lower, we are expecting some truly fantastic quality fruit.
Well thats it for now folks! We can't wait to continue sharing our teams, and our olives, journey to harvest! Stay tuned for more!