Olive farm hit by bad winter weather

I drive to Medford on a daily basis from Jacksonville. I continue to wonder what has happened to the "olive orchard" that was planted a couple of years ago between South Stage Road (behind Bellinger Hill) and West Main/Jacksonville Highway. I saw no activity this past year. I'm wondering what you guys can dig up on the matter.

— Karen P., Jacksonville

Try as we might, we haven't been able to catch up with olive farmer Jeff Hoyal in recent months. But we were able to glean some insight from Oregon State University's Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center. The reports are not good.

Freezing temperatures last December inflicted substantial damage to the 124 acres planted on Hoyal Farms, but it wasn't until the ground warmed up nearly six months later that the severity could be checked.

Horticulture extension agent Philip VanBuskirk said the three varieties of olives — Arbosana, Arbequina and Koroneiki — had a tough time during back-to-back cold winters.

The combination of new plantings and freezing temperatures was a lethal one for much of the orchard.

"We had back-to-back winter freeze events in the late 1990s," VanBuskirk said. "Then here it was again, nowhere near the 10 to 15 years we usually have between them."

He said it's his understanding a portion of the property will be replanted with olives and another will go into wine grapes. The horticulturist said some donated olives planted at the experiment center a short way from the farm resprouted from the roots, in similar fashion to figs.

VanBuskirk said his peers at the University of California-Davis say the varieties planted here won't survive the kind of winter temperatures seen the past two winters.

"The right varieties that can withstand the winter temperatures are just not in the country yet," he said. "They are grown in Spain, Syria and Turkey. They have to be imported by a nursery, quarantined and then released to the general public. It can take several years."

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by e-mail to youasked@mailtribune.com. We're sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.

Share This Story