By Christine Webster
Riverland horticulturalist Roger Hefford is surprising olive industry experts with the high volume of olive oil he is producing from trees he only planted in 2015 at his Waikerie property.
The fourth generation grower and his wife Megan McKenzie established their business, Waikerie Olive Grove, three years ago and made the decision to specialise in super high density olive trees.
Each of their three year-old-trees produce on average of one litre of premium extra virgin olive oil when harvested in April.
Roger attributes the bounty of oil he is already producing to the Italian signore variety he has chosen to grow and the hedging technique he uses to manage them.
He says most of the bigger olive oil producers in Australia still grow traditional olive trees and use bigger machines for harvesting.
Local fruit grower and contractor Anthony Fulwood uses a wine grape harvester to pick the olives, which are taken by Roger to Prema Brothers at Munno Para Downs, north of Adelaide to be processed into oil.
The olives must be processed within 24 to 48 hours of picking to ensure they produce premium extra virgin oil.
All of the 22,000 olive trees at Waikerie Olive Grove were hand-planted by Roger who gives each one careful attention and encourages their growth by talking to them as well.
“Since I was a little kid I was rotary hoeing up Nana’s front lawn and growing parsley,” he says.
“I always wanted to be a grower.”
The olives have replaced the peaches, nectarines, apricots and apples, which the Heffords pulled out during the drought in 2004, due to high irrigation costs.
Waikerie Olive Grove has only just produced its second vintage.
It already has its own olive oil label, “ the distinguished olive,” which has become highly sought after.
It is presently available in some shops in the Riverland, Adelaide and East Maitland in NSW and at farmers markets in the region.
“We only had 600 bottles of olive oil last year and then we ran out!” Megan says.
This year, the couple produced 8000 bottles of extra virgin olive oil from their olive trees.
The liquid gold has also been used to create a range of bath and beauty products including soap, bath bombs and lip balm.
The products are handcrafted by 17-year-old Ellie Everett, who is originally from Waikerie and has been making soaps and moisturisers since she was just 12.
Waikerie Olive Grove hopes to produce at least 50,000 bottles of olive oil next year.
Roger and Megan have also purchased an olive grove next door, which will also increase the volume of olive oil they can produce and hopefully enable them to export overseas in the future.
Roger and Megan who met in Adelaide have two children, Jack, 4 and Ava, 8, and they are excited about their decision three years ago to make the Waikerie olive farm their permanent home.
A shop is being built on their property to enable consumers to buy from them directly.
The Riverland family are also eager to share their picturesque olive grove with others and help boost tourism in the region and their next goal is to establish a five star farm stay.
To find out more about Waikerie Olive Grove and their products click here.
Header image is Roger Hefford and Megan McKenzie with their son Jack and daughter Ava.
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