World Economy

Texans Switching From Crude to Olives

Texans Switching From Crude to OlivesTexans Switching From Crude to Olives

As crude prices tumble, landowners across Texas are accelerating production of a different kind of oil – olive oil.

“I love the trees, and I love watching them grow,” Steve Coffman Jr. said of his 40 acres (16 hectares) of budding olive trees, which he planted two years ago on his red dirt ranch just outside Cotulla, Texas, the epicenter of the state’s Eagle Ford shale-oil boom, Bloomberg reported Monday.

Nowadays he doesn’t have the same affection for his oil wells, which sit just down the road from his olive trees.

“I can’t look, it’s depressing,” Coffman said as he pulled out his smartphone to check the latest energy prices. He shook his head. West Texas Intermediate crude had fallen again.

Five years after one of the biggest oil booms in decades boosted royalty checks, a steep decline in oil prices has Texans seeking new ways to stay ahead. About 70 farmers across the state – up from 24 in 2008 – are hoping to cash in on America’s growing appetite for olive oil, a small part of the latest effort to diversify the economy of the second most-populous US state.

In 2013 Texas farmers planted about 500,000 olive trees, up from 80,000 trees in 2008, according to figures from the Texas Olive Oil Council. The council expects around two million trees to be planted by the end of next year.

The US is among the world’s largest consumers of olive oil, yet it produces just a fraction of its own consumption. About 97 percent of the olive oil used in the US is imported from overseas, primarily Italy and Spain, according to the American Olive Oil Producers Association.

 Net Importer

Last year the US imported $1.1 billion worth of olive oil, up from around $400 million in 2000, according to import figures from the US Department of Agriculture.

The olive arrived in California in the late 1700s in the hands of Franciscan monks who acquired it from Spanish missionaries. California remains the dominant producer of American olive oil, accounting for almost all of the nation’s domestic production. Last year the state produced approximately 3.5 million gallons, according to the association.

Texas, which produces less than 15,000 gallons a year, is a mere drizzle.

Texans know all too well that relying too heavily on the oil industry can lead to trouble. In the 1980s, the bottom fell out of the oil market, leading to a wave of bank failures and, eventually, a regional recession.