Olives have been cultivated in Florida for over 300 years. The Spanish planted olives at St. Augustine in 1565 and Mediterranean Minorcan settlers planted them near Daytona Beach in the 1750s. A U.S. government report from the 1920’s talks of a «35 foot bearing olive tree» on the Gibson farm near Tampa. Most recent olive production began in Florida in 2014
Today (2023) there are approximately 800 acres of olives under active cultivation in 26 of Florida’s 67 counties. The groves range from back-yard hobby groves with several trees to small 20+ acre commercial operations. Several Florida nurseries sell olive trees for fruit production and ornamental purposes. There are three commercial olive mills in Florida and several home mills producing 2000+ liters of oil annually.
With the collapse of the citrus industry due to Huanglongbing (HLB) disease and other factors, olives are under consideration as an alternative cash crop. While many European varieties (Arbequina, Koroneiki, Manzanilla, etc.) grow well in northern Florida where annual chill generally exceeds 400 hours; most of the available fallow citrus grove land is located in southern Florida below 27 degrees N. latitude where annual chill is 200 hours or less.
The University of Florida in partnership with the Florida Olive Council, a non-profit producer’s association, has embarked on a research program to test Middle East and North African, South American and South Australian varieties (Nabali, Azapa, Tohaffi, etc.) in southern Florida with a view to leveraging existing citrus infrastructure to produce olive oil. Forty varieties were secured from he USDA olive germ plasm at University of California (Davis) in 2017 and 2018, they were grafted to mature Arbequina and Koroneiki trees at the Hardee County Research facility at Wauchula, FL. Eight of these cultivars bloomed and fruited in 2022 and 2023.
Dowload archive: Florida Low-Chill Olive Test Results 2022