Musco Olive reaches capacity for new contracts
Musco Family Olive Co. offers 10-year contracts to many growers dropped by Bell-Carter Foods
TRACY – What could have been a complete loss for Central Valley olive farmers is now looking like one of the best ripe olive crops in decades.
On July 25, Musco Family Olive Co. announced it has reached its capacity for taking on new growers and will not be offering any additional contracts for this year’s crop. The decision came after a detailed process for contacting, meeting and signing up interested California ripe olive growers and their families. These new long-term contracts with growers are in addition to the existing Musco contracted growers. The process for adding contracts began in March after Bell-Carter Foods, the largest olive processor in the nation, announced it was canceling its contracts with Central Valley growers representing about 10,000 acres of olives, about 40% of which were located in Tulare County.
“Those meetings with the affected farmers and their families were an excellent opportunity for us to discuss and share thoughts on the future of the table olive industry,” said Dennis Burreson, Musco Family Olive’s Vice President of Field Operations and Industry Affairs. “Although we cannot entirely cover all our competitor’s former growers, our approach provides the assurance of a lasting California industry and a home for our newly contracted growers and their families now and in the years ahead.”
Last summer, 20% of Bell-Carter’s stock was purchased by the Spanish firm Dcoop and its Moraccan partner Devico just two months after Bell-Carter lodged an anti-dumping complaint with the U.S. International Trade Commission against plaint with the U.S. International Trade Commission against foreign olives, claiming Spanish olive growers, such as the world’s largest olive conglomerate Dcoop, were selling their olives at far below value because they were being heavily subsidized by the European Union. The complaint led to the Trump Administration’s 37.4 percent tariff on black olives imposed last June. Dcoop exports about 7,700 tons of black and green olives to the U.S. but only 4,400 tons are subject to the tariff, according to industry trade publication Olive Oil Times. Valley growers say once Dcoop’s purchase of Bell-Carter were complete, they sent out a letter on March 1, 2019 notifying California growers their contracts had been terminated.
“With the new duties now in place from last year’s trade action regarding unfair pricing, we are working to advance the California ripe olive industry and believe the time is right to invest in its future,” Burreson said.
Following Musco Family Olive Co.’s announcement in March that it would offer new contracts to growers impacted by a competitor’s decision to cancel contracts, the company was quickly contacted by affected growers. A questionnaire was sent to all interested growers. Next, company representatives traveled the state to personally meet with growers and their families throughout California’s growing regions. Those orchards that met the company’s criteria were offered long-term contracts. The company historically has had a 10-acre policy for new contracts, and it continues to target that approach.
CEO Felix Musco had originally stated the company would be offering as many one-year contracts as it could but was able to sign all of new contracts for at least 10-year terms. Burreson said Musco will continue to offer development contracts with growers interested in investing in mechanically harvestable acreage. Generally, traditional orchards have fewer than 100 trees per acre while modern orchards are planted closer to 200 or more trees per acre. Traditional rows varied from 15 to 20 feet while more modern rows are relatively half that. The company has been encouraged by the response it has received to date and is excited about the industry’s potential.
“The time has come to invest in modern acreage to produce both the highest quality ripe olives and the most economical source which will enable our industry to regain the food service market lost over time to unfair pricing,” Burreson said. “Already there is new modern acreage being planted and I am proud to say my family is again one of the first to have a newly planted orchard to watch grow in step with our industry.”
Since Musco announced it would offer new contracts, the company has been preparing its facilities in Tracy, Calif. to receive olives from as many acres as possible as well as investing in capital improvements and the marketplace to meet its planned growth. 2019 has been marked by several unique factors for the ripe olive industry. In addition to the competitor announcing they would be canceling contracts with numerous California table olive growers, one of the olive industry’s largest blooms in the past 40 years was observed this spring, foreshadowing a possible record yielding crop.
“Musco has never been more committed to the California ripe olive industry. We are privileged to partner with so many multi-generational olive growers and their families to carry on the proud tradition of the California-invented ripe olive for years to come,” Burreson said.
As the only 100% California and family-owned ripe olive company, Burreson said Musco was proud to collaborate with new growers to provide consumers with the highest quality 100% California Grown olives under its Pearls and Early California labels, which it claims are the No. 1 branded market share of ripe olives in the U.S. Musco says it is committed to its California growers, long-tenured employees, and countless valued vendors and business partners. For more information about Musco or the California olive growers, visit www.olives.com and calolive.org/meet-our-growers.