The California orchards that produce nearly all domestic olives were hammered by harsh weather this year, leaving growers with the smallest harvest in 25 years.

The hit to the state's $59 million industry will likely drive up prices and dig into processors' stockpile of canned olives, said Adin Hester, president of the Olive Growers Council.

"We won't see olives disappearing from shelves, but prices will probably go up. The inventory that's remaining has suddenly become more valuable," he said.

Mid-September marks the beginning of the olive harvest, a time when tree limbs usually droop heavy with fruit. But this year, many farmers are reporting lighter than average crops. Some have orchards so sparse, they will not bother to harvest.

"We entered the year expecting about three tons per acre," said farmer Dan Dreyer, whose family has grown olives for 50 years in Tulare County, the top olive-producing region in the country.

"With the cold snap we thought, 'OK, it'll be smaller.' Then the rains came. Then heat. We kept lowering our estimate until we realized we weren't going to have anything," he said.

In Northern California, buds that grew during an unusually warm January were damaged by a cold snap the following month. Counties such as Tehama and Glen reported near total losses.

Analysts with the U.S. Department of Agriculture project a 50,000-ton crop this year, about 65 percent lower than last year's 142,000 tons and the smallest harvest since 1981. Last year, the crop harvested by Tulare County growers alone was 56,000 tons.

The table olive industry will suffer most because olives used for oil make up only about 10 percent of this year's expected crop, according to the USDA.

Domestic growers once dominated the food services market, but producers in Spain, Morocco, Argentina and other countries started offering cheaper olives, Hester said.

California processors have an inventory that will last about 11 months, so the effects of this year's disaster will not be felt for at least a year, Hester said.

In August, Tulare County agriculture officials asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture to designate the county a disaster area, qualifying them for low-interest loans.

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