Super High Density Olive Groves an Australian Growers insight


Super High-Density Olive Groves are becoming the “norm” for new olive tree plantings around the world. Over half of the total hectares in the USA are Super High Density, two-thirds of the total hectares in Chile and now we are seeing large areas being planted in areas such as North Africa and Saudi Arabia.  Australia is following suit slowly with 95% of new plantings being Super High Density but new developments are still far and few between with only 500ha of the 25,000ha being Super High Density.

Benefits of the Super High-Density olive growing system seem to bring; early returns on investment, consistent yields, lower management and operational costs and high-quality olive oil are factors that make sense to olive Growers to plant using the Super High-Density Olive Growing method and that outweigh the higher capital investment required with this planting system compared with Traditional ways.

Agromillora’s Manager, Damian Crowe, talks with Alan Hillier who has 8-year experience growing his Super High-Density Olive Grower on a Boutique scale.  Alan Hillier is located in Waikerie, South Australia.

INTERVIEW by Damian Crowe (DC) with Alan Hillier (AH)

DC – What influenced you to plant Olive Trees?

AH – I have a 70 ha orchard consisting of Wine Grapes and Citrus. At the time Citrus wasn’t performing very well and I was looking to diversify into another crop. Also at the time the price of Extra Virgin Olive Oil was pretty good.

DC – Why did you choose the Super High-Density Olive Growing Method?

AH – After investigating the crop I found out about the Super High-Density planting method.  This system seemed a logical choice. Seeing I already had Wine Grapes it fitted into what I was already doing.  The system requires all the same machinery I already had i.e. Grape Harvester, Mechanical Pruning Machine and a Weedicide Unit to fit down 3.5m rows.  Also, it coincided when I pick the last of my grapes I could continue on and pick the olives before I parked the harvester for the year.

DC – The traditional method is a lower capital investment option, why did you proceed to outlay more per hectare to set up a “new crop” with a “new system” rather than test the waters with a lower investment practice?

AH – I researched the traditional olive growing method and found that there were high operational costs whether I picked by hand or used a Tree Shaker.  Hand picking was totally out of the question due to the high wages we have in Australia.  The Tree Shaker could not remove any more than 80% of the fruit and that was when the fruit was over ripe, I wanted to be able to pick the fruit early to achieve the best quality oil and keep the fresh, fruity flavours you get when picking early.  The employment of a Colossus was not even a consideration for reasons such as:

  1. I was never going to be big enough to warrant buying an $800k machine
  2. It was not possible to have a contractor transport one to the grove.

The method that required the grape harvester seemed the best because it is essential to pick the fruit quickly and have it processed the same day. The ability to pick one hectare every two hours allowed me to do that.

DC – What varieties did you plant?

AH – Initially I planted Arbequina Olives which cropped enough to warrant picking in the third year. I have since planted Arbosana Olive Trees and some more Arbequina Olive Trees which will come into production next year. The Arbequina is a milder oil with a lower stability than most olive oils hence the planting of the Arbosana to balance our blend with the Arbequina.  This achieves a stronger flavour and more stability. With the education of consumers in the Olive Oil sector, we are seeing demand for a more robust oil instead of the milder oil that has traditionally been on the consumers’ palate.

DC – What have your Arbequina Olive Trees yielded?

AH – The first olive harvest in year 3 resulted in 5 tonnes/ha and achieved 800L of oil/ha. In year 4 we got 1,200L/ha followed by an average of 1,900L/ha for the next five years.  This year we are again looking at a similar crop. It’s interesting that even in 2009 where most olive growing regions were hit with hot weather during flowering resulting in severely reduced crops, we still produced 1650L/ha and we also saw the same hot weather here. I would say the heat wave and winds here were worse, we always seem to be a few degrees warmer and have winds a few kilometres faster than anywhere else. I put it down to Irrigation, predicting the hot weather and getting the soil profile wet before the heat wave gets here is essential.

DC – Where do you see the future of your Super High-Density Olive grove?

AH – No new developments are planned as my market is fulfilled at this stage. The new plantings will come into production next year which will give me extra oil to sell. I will say the system is always developing. For example, the establishment cost and management costs are always being reduced. The first plantings involved a much sturdier and expensive trellis and were more labour intensive in the first 3 years. My new plantings required a much simpler and cheaper trellis and in one site we neglected to use any trellis, which is proving very successful. These developments also require a “fully mechanical” training method from the day of planting. 2015 will be their third olive growing season and I have yet to use any labour in those areas that didn’t include the use of a tractor.

Super High-Density Olive Grove Insight

  • Arbequina – Site #1 Planted 2006
  • Trellis @ 1.5m with a 1.8m stake
  • Labour intensive training method for first 3 years


Arbosana Site # 2 planted July 2012

  • Trellis – 1 wire @ 50cm, fully mechanised training method


Arbosana Site # 2 planted July 2012

  • Trellis – 1 wire @ 50cm, fully mechanised training method


See earlier plantings of the Alan Hillier Super High-Density Olive Grove:

About Mechanical Pruning machines for Super High-Density Olive Growing

About Super High-Density Olive Trees & Growing System:  Agromillora Australia

Agromillora Australia is the Australian branch of the multinational Agromillora.  Founded in 1986, Agromillora is the world’s largest supplier of ‘in-vitro’ propagated rootstocks and olive plants, and it has become one of the world’s most innovative agricultural companies.

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