Fruiting olive tree

Carmel Valley olives, almost ready to harvest in 2012.

They say nature abhors a vacuum. The same could be said of farms: As California's extreme drought gets worse, more farmers are replacing water-intensive crops with ones that can handle the dryness.

Case in point: olives. The California Department of Food and Agriculture blog picked up a Sacramento Bee story reporting some Central Valley farmers are swapping out their thirsty almond and rice crops for olive trees, which require about half the water. Even if they're not watered enough to fruit, according to the article, they'll survive well enough to produce again in wetter years. 

The timing is opportune, as more American consumers react to reports of imported European olive oil labeled "extra virgin" but, in fact, cut with lower-value oils or rancid. The market for Californian olive oil could be set to boom.

Holman Ranch is one of a few small-scale Carmel Valley olive oil producers, and Holman Guest Services Manager Nick Elliott says that grove has been affected by the extreme weather, too. Without going into their usual dormant state, he says, the trees budded early, which means early fruiting and early harvest.

"Similar to the grape-growing season, the olive season's going to be early this year," he says. "With the heat this winter, nothing went to sleep this year." 

Holman's olive oil tends to sell out, so look for the fresh bottles this winter.

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