Deep freeze kills Solano County olive harvest, but Napa–Sonoma fares much better

For some North Bay olive farmers, the weather brings a bitter taste and declines in yields for this year’s harvest.

But from the Central Valley over to Napa and into Sonoma and Marin counties, those yields vary, improving the closer to the coast the groves are. Official value and yields will be determined when county agriculture departments come out with their official crop reports in late spring.

Solano County Agriculture Commissioner Ed King told the North Bay Business Journal he estimates the value of the crop on 400 acres in Solano County will drop by about $1 million. He also anticipates yield per acre will drop from 1.4 tons in 2021 to 0.3 tons this year.

For 2022, King blames this year’s results in part on a deep freeze in February.

According to the National Weather Service bureau in Sacramento, temps taken at the capital city’s airport Feb. 23–25 read 26–28 degrees Fahrenheit. The normal temperature is 41 degrees.

While it was freezing in February, the mercury hit 71 degrees on Jan. 22. The normal is 55 degrees.

“It’s been a strange year,” Solano County Farm Bureau Manager Lisa Shipley said.

Shipley’s own crop yield was affected by the weather this year. Her usual yield is 25–50 tons of olives from an ordinary harvest. This year, it was four tons.

Sonoma County on the cusp

Meanwhile, at least one Sonoma County grower known for its bubbly claims it has gained a record harvest, the Sonoma Index-Tribune reported. The olive harvest at Gloria Ferrer’s on Arnold Drive grew to 15 tons from 1.9 tons.

While a big harvest was expected, vineyard manager Brad Kurtz indicated the early ripening of the crop this year caught his crew flat-footed. Gloria Ferrer began harvesting its olive crop nearly two weeks ahead of schedule on Oct. 20.

“We blinked and all of a sudden all the olives are ready to pick,” Kurtz told the Index-Tribune.

“Production is good for those who have irrigation,” said Sonoma County Agriculture Commissioner Andrew Smith, who estimates the 2022 crop will be down by about $100,000 due to the weather’s impacts. “What we’re seeing is an overwhelming decrease (for those without) due to drought, heat spikes and fire recovery.”

Beauty of coastal living for olive trees

Marin County’s proximity to the coast has benefited the olive trees since deep freezes are fewer and farther between.

“The harvest for coastal growers has been good,” Agriculture Commissioner Stefan Parnay said. “The inland areas not so much — they were hit by frost. But I think our crops are OK.”

It helps that olive trees don’t guzzle the water like almond trees do given California has remained in a prolonged period of drought.

Parnay has no solid numbers yet, but he has received anecdotal reports from growers that appear promising.

In Napa County, the area is more commonly known for wine than olives.

“It’s not our best year, but it’s not our worst either,” said Ana Hernandez, grower for St. Helena’s Grove 45 Olive Oil. “We have less crops because of the frost and water issues, but we’re in the middle of the harvest and anticipate 800 to 1,000 gallons of olive oil from it.”

Napa County integrates olive harvest numbers with several other crops under the $742 million “fruits and nuts” category of its report, without singling out the delicacy.

Meanwhile, south of Petaluma on the border of Sonoma and Marin counties, Samantha Dorsey’s McEvoy Ranch has already completed its harvest.

“There was a bit of a decline in tonnage, but we’re on target (for the oil). We fared much better because it didn’t get as cold here,” she said, adding the “flavor profile” is also ideal. “But we need more rain this winter for next season.”

Susan Wood covers law, cannabis, production, tech, energy, transportation, agriculture as well as banking and finance. Reach her at 530-545-8662 or

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