The olive tree (Olea europaea) is an evergreen tree which varies in height depending on the particular variety. The tree is cultivated for its fruit, called a drupe, that is oval shaped and changes colour from green to purple as it ripens. The olive tree has been cultivated for thousands of years and some commercial groves have been productive for over one hundred years.


Olive trees originated in an area extending from the eastern coastal regions of the Mediterranean Basin, to the highlands of Iran and Palestine and the coastal area of Syria. The olive has been cultivated for at least 5,000 years and became established in all Mediterranean countries, about 3,000 years ago. From the fifteenth century, European explorers introduced olives to the ‘new world’. Olives came to Australia with the earliest European settlers, and groves were established at Parramatta, near Sydney, in 1805. All states (colonies) of Australia planted groves throughout the 1800s. Mediterranean migrants continued to introduce new varieties to new countries, including Australia, leading to a huge diversity of olive cultivars across the globe.

Australian interest in olive trees was renewed in the 1990s and 2000s, as a diversification option, a hobby block crop or a retirement investment. At the same time, managed investment schemes led to the establishment of several very large groves of olive trees. Throughout the 2000s, the Australian industry grew from a cottage industry to a technically sophisticated and coordinated industry.

Olives have two key end uses: olive oil or table olives. While growing requirements and grove management are largely the same for either product, the end use will influence the selection of varieties to plant, harvesting options, the processing equipment required, and market options. Olive oil production has become increasingly export focused, and since 2000, the quality of Australian olive oil has consistently improved and production efficiencies increased. The growth in the table olive sector has been slower, yet there is significant scope for further growth in domestic and international markets.

The industry is a mature and diverse industry which collects levies from producers that are spent on research, development and extension activities. The interests of growers, both large and boutique, producing both olive oil and table olives, are represented by the Australian Olive Association at a national level, and some state-based and regional associations. All states and regions come under the umbrella of the Australian Olive Association.

Facts and figures

  • The scientific name of olive, Olea europaea, is Latin for ‘oil from Europe’
  • Groves have been planted throughout Australia since the early 1800s, but a resurgence in olive grove development in the 1990s and 2000s, saw up to 10 million new trees planted
  • Mature trees, over nine years old, planted in modern densities could yield up to 40kg of fruit per tree.
  • Production and exports of Australian olive oil have been increasing, and imports of olive oil are slowly declining as Australian consumers increasingly purchase locally produced product
  • Table olive production in Australia is increasing, as are imports and exports of table olive products.

Production status

The growing area is over 20,000 hectares, with production of 130,000 tonnes, of which approximately 95% were extracted for oil, which produced he equivalent of 19.2 million litres of olive oil. Over 70% of trees are concentrated on fewer than 20 groves, with the largest in excess of 6,000 hectares.

The Australian Olive Industry has four identifiable grower sectors:

  • 2% are large vertically integrated corporate entities servicing the domestic supermarket trade and targeting export markets, with branded and bulk olive products. Over 80% of Australia’s domestic production comes from this 2% of the industry.
  • 82% are smaller and medium sized family based boutique producers developing branded products to service local and other niche markets.
  • 16% are medium sized olive producers growing fruit for the bulk olive oil market.
  • Then there are small hobby farms which are not commercially producing.

Australian olive oil production trebled from 5,000 tonne in 2005 to 17,000 tonnes or 19.2 million litres of mostly extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), an increase of 31%.

The very large producers aside, olive oil and table olive producers generally combine olive production with other farming or non-farming activity. Boutique-scale production is rarely a source of primary income.

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Map of current and potential growing regions


Olives are grown for the production of oil, table olives and other food products. High quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) and table products are derived from different olive varieties (or cultivars).

Olive oil has a wide range of uses, from a ‘healthy-choice’ cooking oil, to an ingredient of salad dressings, to use as a cooking ingredient. Small volumes of lower grade olive oil are used for making soaps and other cosmetic products such as hand creams.

Globally, olive oil is categorised into several grades of olive oil. Extra virgin olive oil is the highest grade and is solely mechanically extracted, whereas refined olive oils and olive pomace oils would have been produced with the use of added heat, chemicals and/or solvents. Almost all of Australia’s olive oil is of the highest grade, extra virgin olive oil.

Table olives are primarily eaten whole as an appetiser, with endless options of curing, stuffing and seasoning green and black olives to enhance flavour. Table olives may be processed into other olive products such as tapenades and pastes. The olive fruit may also be processed for use as an ingredient in the food industry, particularly for pizza topping.

Production Requirements

Growing regions

In Australia, olives are grown throughout most of the country, except in the Northern Territory. Victoria produces around 69% of the national crop; with WA 10.5%; SA 11%; NSW/ACT 8%; QLD 1% and Tasmania producing 0.1%. The national crop distribution reflects the adaption of the tree to the more Mediterranean climates.

Globally, the tree is generally grown in the 30 to 45 degree latitudes of both the northern and southern hemispheres. In the southern hemisphere, groves are found in more tropical latitudes, such as northern New South Wales and southern Queensland, due to altitude-modified climates. However Queensland growers have had ongoing issues with fruit set. Trees in Queensland have generally grown prolifically, however fruit set has been very low and has seen many growers in tropical areas exit the industry.

Soil type

Olives will grow on a wide range of soil textures and types, provided the soil is well drained and it has a subsoil pH(water) of 6.5–8.5.


The tree evolved in the temperate Mediterranean climate, and grows well in similar conditions in Australia. Fundamentally, olives require a cool, wet winter and long, warm, dry summers.

The tree has a winter chilling requirement of a temperature range of 1.5–18°C, to initiate fruit production, explaining why fruit production is not high in tropical areas. Olives have a degree of frost tolerance but can suffer severe damage at temperatures less than ­–5°C, especially those grown for table fruit.

A mature grove requires about 600–1000mm of rainfall and/or irrigation annually. The timing of rainfall is important. High summer rainfall will increase the risk of fungal and bacterial disease. Significant rain at harvest time (autumn) may reduce the oil that can be extracted from the plant due to higher water content in the fruit, however rain at harvesting time has been helpful to ward off frosts. A good processor is generally able to manage high moisture content in fruit by the use of talc.


There are many varieties to choose from when establishing an olive grove. Choosing the right variety or varieties will require a lot of research and consultation with industry advisors, growers and nurseries. The key considerations when choosing a variety are (all of equal importance):

  • the varieties best suited to the local environment
  • end use of the fruit – oil or table
  • requirements of the target market in terms of oil or fruit characteristics.

About 90% of Australian olive oil is produced from 10 main cultivars. These are: Arbequina, Barnea, Coratina,
Corregiola, Frantoio, Koroneiki, Leccino, Manzanillo, Pendolino and Picual.

Varieties most used for table olives include: Manzanillo, Sevillano, Jumbo Kalamata and Verdale for green olives and Kalamata for naturally ripened black olives.

There will be variation between varieties in terms of oil yield, taste and smell characteristics, resistance to stress, productivity, tree vigour, time of ripening and ease of harvest.

Throughout the establishment phase of the industry, there was considerable confusion about the integrity of some varieties. Research was conducted to clarify the confusion in 2005, with the publication of National Olive Variety Assessment – Stage 2 and Olive Variety Regional Performance Study. The report Olive variety assessment for subtropical summer rainfall regions is relevant to growers in subtropical regions.

Although olives are self-fertile, most varieties will benefit from some form of cross-pollination with another compatible olive variety to optimise yield, especially in stressful environments. Generally, it is recommended to plant three or four different compatible varieties to optimise cross-pollination. The different varieties should be within 30 metres of each other, or closer.

Planting stock for an olive grove should only be purchased from reputable nurseries with good quality control of the propagation systems and the variety should be DNA certified. This may require a waiting period while stock is grown out.

Planting and crop management

When selecting a site for an olive grove there are some preliminary considerations. If machinery is to be used, steep slopes should be avoided – mechanical harvesters, in particular, may not operate efficiently at slopes greater than 30%.

Drainage of a site is critical, as olives do not tolerate waterlogging. Access to water is also an important site consideration. A grove yielding to potential could require between 2-10ML of water per hectare per year depending on the environment, and the water must be particularly available during flowering and fruit set, and during prolonged dry periods. Newly planted trees will require frequent watering.

Once the site is selected, soils should be assessed for pH, nutrient and organic matter levels and corrections made before planting. Planting rows could be prepared by deep ripping, especially on sites with duplex and heavy soils.

Olive trees have a well-earned reputation for being a hardy tree, but in cultivation, a high level of management is required in their first few years of growth and on an ongoing basis to maintain yields and fruit quality. Young trees are vulnerable to strong winds and should be staked or trellised. The young tree will need to be pruned and trained to encourage it into the correct shape. A single straight stem is required for both mechanical harvesting and hand harvesting.

Once the desired canopy structure is achieved, annual pruning will be required to maintain canopy shape and ensure tree health by allowing air circulation and light penetration. Olive trees are biannual bearers and pruning at the correct time during "on" years will encourage more shoots and subsequent fruit growth in the following "off" year.

During establishment, mainly nitrogen based fertilisers will be required but once the trees start bearing fruit, applications of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium will be necessary. Olives respond well to fertiliser, and the correct application of macro- and micro-nutrients can be determined by regular soil and/or leaf analysis, conducted around December–January. Fertiliser can be broadcast or applied through the irrigation system.

The Olive oil and Table olives chapters of the New Crop Industries Handbook provide further detail for grove management.

Weeds, pests, and diseases

Competition from weeds, around the trees and in the alleys, is a potential problem for young and established trees. Weeds can be managed by either regular mowing, planting legume cover crops for green mulch, spraying with herbicides or to a lesser extent by tilling. Herbicides will be required along the tree row, once trees are established.

Although olives have grown in Australia for over 150 years, the rapid expansion of the industry in the 1990s and 2000s led to increased problems with pests and diseases not previously encountered. The most common pests of olives are black olive-scale, which also affects citrus; olive lace bug (not to be confused with beneficial lacewings); and the curculio beetle or weevil, which is a common pest in groves established in former pasture.

One of the main fungal problems is peacock spot, which results in leaf fall and poor fruit set. It is more common in humid areas and correct pruning to allow adequate air flow through the leaves will help keep it under control. Anthracnose, or fruit rot can also affect olives and be of significant economic importance in humid rainy seasons. Copper sprays can be used for both of these fungal diseases.

Olives may also be affected by soil borne pathogens such as phytophthora, verticillium and nematodes common to other fruit trees, particularly if the site has been used previously as an orchard. Prior to establishing the grove, the soil should be tested for these organisms and fumigated if necessary. The olive knot bacterium, which produces galls on trunks and branches, was identified in Australia on isolated properties, in the early 2000s.

While chemical controls are available for many pests and diseases, integrated pest and disease management is encouraged. This approach combines careful identification and monitoring and the use of a wide range of pesticide and non-pesticide control options, and cultural practices to encourage the natural enemies of pests and diseases.

The Field Guide to Olive Pests, Diseases and Disorders in Australia is a useful reference for prospective olive growers, to understand the range of potential pests and integrated pest and disease management. The Olive oil and Table olives chapters of the New Crop Industries Handbook provide management details for pests and diseases of olives.

The Australian Olive Association works with Plant Health Australia to develop measures to minimise the risk of the introduction of exotic pests and diseases that seriously threaten olive production in Australia. The Industry Biosecurity Plan for the Olive Industry outlines key threats to the industry, risk mitigation plans, identification and categorisation of exotic pests and contingency plans.

Infrastructure Requirements

An olive grove will require machinery typical of any tree-based horticultural enterprise, such as tractor/s, sprayers, mower/slasher and a fertiliser spreader. Those who choose to plant trees using the Super High Density (SHD) format have the added benefit of being able to use ex-vineyard equipment as the SHD system follows similar growing principles as vineyards.

An irrigation system will be required in most instances, and soil moisture monitoring equipment should be installed to effectively and efficiently manage water. Experience has shown that groves without adequate irrigation tend not to produce fruit as regularly as is required to make a profit. Whether irrigation is regularly used or not, modern groves should have the ability to irrigate if the season requires it.

Trellises may be set up to support young trees especially in large groves that are to be mechanically harvested, however growers have successfully experimented with cheaper options and these should also be considered.

The processing equipment required for olive oil and table olives is specialised, and prospective growers are encouraged to discuss potential requirements with industry advisors or current growers. There are many different options available to suit all sizes of groves.

Olives for oil

Depending on the size of the grove, olives for oil production are either handpicked or mechanically harvested. Mechanical harvesters may take the form of a tree shaker or over row harvester (similar to grape harvesters). However, harvesting still remains problematic in the industry with tree shakers having minimal success on certain varieties while large, over-the-row harvesters are generally too costly and therefore, unaffordable for most growers.

Depending on the size of the operation, selling arrangements and proximity of contract processors, growers may or may not decide to process their own fruit. Growers who produce their own olive oil on-site will require a processing plant. Continuous processing systems are available for larger operations, as well as boutique-sized operations, and these tend to produce better quality oil than older systems operating in batches.

Once processed, storage tanks or a bottling line will be required, depending to how the product is to be sold.

Table olives

Olives destined to be processed and sold as table olives are mostly handpicked as machinery such as shakers and straddle harvesters can bruise the fruit, leading to spoilage when processed. However, there are a number of successful large scale table olive producers who have imported machinery into Australia that appears to be able to harvest the fruit with minimal to no bruising. Depending on the size of the operation, selling arrangements and proximity of processors, growers may or may not decide to process their own fruit.

If olives are to be stored, temperature controlled storage will be required. If olives are to be transported over long distances to processing facilities, a temperature-controlled vehicle may be required.

Growers processing their own table olives will require equipment to wash and grade the fruit, de-pitting machines and tanks or barrels to soak the fruit for debittering and preserving/fermentation. The Table Olive Production Manual provides excellent details on equipment and materials required for small- and large-scale table olive processing. Once processed, storage barrels or a bottling line will be required, depending to how the product is to be sold.

Secondary processing, where vinegars, oil, herbs and spices are added to the fruit, or products such as tapenade are produced, will require food-grade preparation and quality control facilities, as well as bottling or packing systems.

Table Olive producers are also able to join up to the Industry’s Code of Practice if they meet the requirements. More information can be found at the Australian Olive Association website.

Harvesting & Processing

The time from planting to first harvest will depend on the age of the tree at planting, variety and management techniques. While some varieties may bear earlier, most olive varieties will take at least 4–5 years to bear commercial crops, and longer if not managed properly. Maximum production is generally achieved by years 7–8. Young trees can be induced to yield earlier with correct irrigation, fertiliser and pruning.

Olive oil

Olives for oil production are harvested from April to June. Depending on the size of the grove, olives may be harvested mechanically or manually. Broadly, there are two types of mechanical harvesters. The first type is a tree shaker that shakes individual branches or vibrates the whole trunk, causing olives to fall into a canopy placed around the tree. The second type of harvester is an over-row or straddle harvester that has moving horizontal fingers (bars) to agitate the foliage and cause the olives to fall into a catcher at the base of the machine.

Harvested fruit must be transported to the processing plant as soon as possible to minimise oxidation and fermentation of the fruit, which will reduce oil quality. Modern processing plants can crush the fruit, mix it to a paste and then separate the oil from the paste, all in one process. These are preferred over traditional mat presses, which are difficult to keep clean. Plant hygiene is essential to produce fault-free oil.

Virgin olive oils (extra virgin, virgin and ordinary virgin) are obtained solely from the fruit (by mechanical or physical means) without using chemical extractants or excess heat, which will alter the characteristics of the oil. Extra virgin olive oil is considered the best quality grade and is the primary focus of most olive oil producers in Australia.

Refining methods may be used to remove flavour defects improving the odour and taste, to produce refined olive oil. The olive pomace (solid material left after the first oil extraction) can be treated with solvents to extract the remaining oil to produce olive pomace oils.

Once pressed, olive oil should be stored in airtight and lightproof containers at a constant temperature below 20°C, to slow the onset of oxidation, which causes the oil to go rancid. Oil quality will deteriorate over time, even when stored in ideal conditions, and it should be consumed within one or two years after production.

Australian olive oil producers, through the Australian Olive Association, have instigated much research into the nature of Australian olive oil, not only to ensure the production of quality oil but also to break down trade barriers in potential export markets.

The association has developed OliveCare® – the Australian Olive Industry’s Code of Practice in Australia, to give consumers, overseas and domestically, confidence in the quality of the product. The publication The Natural Chemistry of Australian Extra Virgin Olive Oil describes the characteristics of high quality olives oils produced in Australia, and the likely effect of growing region and variety on the oil.

Table olives

Table olives are mostly picked by hand, as mechanical harvesting bruises the fruit. However, the Table Olive Production Manual does describe a methodology for treatment of green olives, pre- and post-harvest to enable harvest with a specialised harvester. This process significantly reduces harvesting costs and enables a much larger area of production.

Harvest time depends on the type of olive required for processing and the end market. Green-ripe olives are ready for harvesting in summer/autumn whereas naturally black-ripe olives are ready in autumn/early winter. Under some growing conditions, some olive varieties never fully ripen.

Careful post-harvest handling of table olives is essential for high quality products, and olives should be stored between 5–10°C, under clean and hygienic conditions, until processing. Harvested olives should be processed as soon as possible to avoid deterioration of fruit quality.

Olives are washed and graded, and then undergo primary processing to debitter and preserve the olive. Processing involves placing the olives into tanks of various solutions (water, brine, lye) depending on the type of olive and product required. Only a single variety at a specific maturation state is processed in the same tank; the process is highly controlled, especially for pH, salt levels, microbiology and spoilage. Continuous records of the process should be kept and the final product must meet quantitative, qualitative and health standards before being released for sale.

The various processing treatments are described in the Table Olive Production Manual. Apart from dried olives, most processed olives are packed or bottled in salt brine.

The Australian Olive Association has developed OliveCare® – the Australian Olive Industry’s Code of Practice in Australia, to give consumers, overseas and domestically, confidence in the quality of the product. The publication The Voluntary Industry Standard for Table Olives in Australia provides detail that aims to improve product quality, food safety and productivity for table olive producers, and deliver associated benefits to Australian and international consumers.

Table olives may be marketed after primary processing or a further processing step may be undertaken to add value to the product. Secondary processing may involve combining the olives with wine vinegar, vegetable oils (olive, canola, sunflower), herbs and spices to enhance flavour; or pitting and stuffing the olives with fillings such as paprika, peppers, almonds, garlic, anchovy or cheese. Olive flesh may also be ground to make olive pastes and tapenade. Secondary processing must use food grade equipment, and final product must meet quantitative, qualitative and health standards before being released for sale.

Markets & Marketing

The main producers of olive oil are Spain (35%), Italy (26%) and Greece (15%); and the main producers of table olives are Spain (26%), Turkey (14%), Egypt (11%) and Syria (10%). About half of the world’s production of both products is traded.

Australia produces around 120,000 tonnes of olives for oil production and 3,700 tonnes for table olives. Domestic production has increased steadily since about 2005, as widespread plantings of the 1990s and 2000s have matured. At the same time, export of olive oil and table olives has increased, indicating a demand and/or success for Australian product in the global market. Importation of olive oil peaked in 2006–07 but has since remained relatively stable with the growth of domestic oil consumption being met by domestic production. Despite growing production volumes of table olives, imports of table olives continue to grow steadily.

90% of Australia’s olive oil production comes from a few large operations, who market their branded product through supermarkets and overseas. The other 10% of production is boutique-style olive oil, of very high quality and marketed at the ‘farm gate’, at produce markets and, depending on volume of production, through specialist food outlets.

The global market prospects for Australian olive oil are mixed. Italy is the world’s largest importer of olive oil, followed by the United States, France, Germany and the United Kingdom. With trade protection measures on olive oil being reduced in Europe and India, opportunities for sales into these regions should increase, as well as into the emerging market of China. However, Australian exporters must compete against other large ‘new world’ producers such as Chile, Argentina and the United States, who have started producing high quality extra virgin olive oil from highly mechanised super-high density groves.

The International Olive Council lists internationally accepted classifications for olive oil. In order to compete in a global market the Australian Olive Association has developed OliveCare® – the Australian Olive Industry’s Code of Practice in Australia, to give consumers, overseas and domestically, confidence in the quality of the product.

In the mid-2000s, extensive characterisation of Australian olive oils was carried out and the research has been summarised in the publication The Natural Chemistry of Australian Extra Virgin Olive Oil, to demonstrate that Australian olive oils, from different regions and different varieties, meet international standards.

Table olive producers are mainly boutique-scale producers, who sell their treated green or black olives directly to food manufacturers or value-add their product to make a range of deli products or secondary products such as tapenades. Australian per capita apparent consumption of table olives is about 0.7kg/person, which is relatively high for a non-Mediterranean country but reflects the influence of Mediterranean migration to Australia. The volume of imported table olives has increased steadily since 2005–06, with imported table olives comprising more than 75% of the total Australian consumption. These figures suggest there is good opportunity for import replacement.

The Olive Strategic Investment Plan 2017-2021 indicates that small- and medium-sized producers are generally optimistic about the olive industry in Australia. Despite some challenges, most respondents to a 2009 survey expected to have similar or greater areas of olives planted in the future. They were also positive about the growth opportunities of the Australian industry, and viewed the freshness and quality of Australian extra virgin olive oil as great strengths of the industry.

Risks & Regulations


New entrants to the olive industry face similar challenges to most new enterprises, such as the lag time between grove establishment and commercial production, and considerable outlay of capital in a grove and processing equipment before the business returns a profit.

While the growth prospects for olive oil and olive products looks good into the future, Australian producers will face competition on the global market from other ‘new world’ producers, whose production of olives has quadrupled in the decade 2000 to 2010.

Growers, and the industry as a whole, would also benefit from increased marketing efforts to encourage domestic and international consumers to make a more significant switch from European to Australian olive products. Fundamental to any new business, is a good understanding of the products that are in demand, where product will be sold, and the scale of enterprise required to be competitive.

Individual growers face ongoing uncertainty with regard to irrigation water, in terms of fluctuating allocations and high prices. Continued improvement in water efficiency is a challenge for olives growers, as it is for all irrigators.

Regulatory considerations

There are no regulatory considerations specifically regarding the production of olives; but as for all horticulturalists, olive growers must adhere to regulations regarding safe use of chemicals, occupational health and safety, irrigation licencing, and transport regulations.

Any business that processes and bottles or packs olive products in Australia is deemed a ‘food business’ and must comply with food standards regulations, as administered by Food Standards Australia New Zealand and set out in Chapter 3 of its Food Standards Code. All personnel in the processing part of an olive business must be trained in food processing methods, handling chemicals and processing olives. Total quality management and HACCP systems should be in place.

The Australian Olive Association has developed OliveCare® – the Australian Olive Industry’s Code of Practice in Australia. OliveCare® aims to guarantee the authenticity and quality of Australian olive oil and olive products, and distinguish these from imported products by providing consumers with a recognisable quality seal. Potential growers of table olives should also consult the Table Olive Production Manual for more details about food safety processes and obligations.

Standards Australia published in July 2011 the Australian Standard AS 5264-2011, which is the first Standard for Olive Oils in Australia.



Emerging animal and plant industries: Their value to Australia RIRDC report (2014)

Table Olive Production Manual RIRDC publication (2012)

Olive Market Profile Tasmanian Government Agencies (2014)

Olive growing in Tasmania Wealth from Water factsheet, Tasmanian Government agencies (2012)

Olive Growing – RIRDC publication (2010)

The Natural Chemistry of Australian Extra Virgin Olive Oil RIRDC publication (2007)

Olives Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia

Olive oil, olive fruit, edible oil and oilseed testing NSW Department of Primary Industries

Olive oil chapter in New Crop Industries Handbook RIRDC publication (2004)

Table olives chapter in New Crop Industries Handbook RIRDC publication (2004)

Recommended books and reports on olive growing on the Australian Olive Association website

Other resources

Our website. The publications section of the AgriFutures Australia website provides links to almost 40 reports on a wide range of aspects of olive growing and olive oil and table olive production

Olive Industry on the website of Horticulture Australia (the R&D Corporation responsible for the olive industry)

International Olive Council. A non-intergovernmental organisation bringing together olive producers and consumers, set up in 1959, under the auspices of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development to administer the International Agreement on Olive Oil and Table Olives.

Australian Extra Virgin a website about Australian extra virgin olive oil, launched by the Australian Olive Association

Image Gallery

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Ripe and unripe olives on branch

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Harvested olives and leaf matter

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Harvested olives

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Bottled olive oil

Related Publications


Emerging Animal and Plant Industries - Their Value to Australia (2nd Edition)


Table Olive Production Manual


Olive Growing


The Natural Chemistry of Australian Extra Virgin Olive Oil (English Version)