Traditionally, olive production has belonged to the history of Southern Europe, where groves of olive trees have dotted the landscape for centuries.
Now, with a multi-million dollar olive oil and table olives industry in Australia, the country is fast becoming a force in its own right in the international marketplace.
Since 1992, about nine million olive trees have been planted in Australia, contributing to a 2005 $9 million export industry, more than triple that of 2004.
Moreover, in 2004, Australian imports of olive oil were valued at $149m and $47m for imported table olives. Imports and consumption of olive oil and table olives have nearly doubled in Australia over the past 10 years.
With increasing demand from people around Australia to acquire the knowledge and skills to produce olive oil and table olives and with a burgeoning industry around the country, Northern Melbourne Institute of TAFE (NMIT) recently introduced a training program designed to educate people in olive production.
NMIT is the only TAFE provider of the program in Victoria that delivers the Nationally Accredited Certificate III in Production Horticulture - Olive Grove Establishment and Maintenance, online and on-site at the workplace.
The program involves 16 units of competency including units such as to undertake a site assessment, monitor weather conditions, control plant, pest, diseases and disorders, perform specialist amenity pruning, sample soils and analyse results and implement a plant nutrition program.
The 12-month program involves one night a week from 5.30-8.30pm online with a chat room with students across Australia (mainly Victoria and NSW) and NMIT Production Horticulture teacher, Hans Hoffmann as well as regular email and phone contact on an individual basis.
The students discuss units, ask questions and share knowledge and expertise about their own experiences as either olive producers or employees in the olive industry.
A week before the online chat, students are emailed notes on the units for the following week's discussion by the teacher. They must prepare and produce about six assignments during the program delivered on line to the teacher which are based on their own property experiences or on a case study.
This online learning is complemented by five field days throughout the year where students visit each others' properties for on-site training where they engage in practical hands-on application of their skills in areas such as pruning, pest management control, running irrigation systems, harvesting and how to apply the best nutrients to the soil to maximise plant growth.
'The program is designed as a real learning experience for the students based on their own properties or their employment as well as anyone wanting to enter the industry,' Hans said.
'The bonus for studying online is that it's flexible delivery where the students can do it at home and don't have to travel to a classroom. And if they miss one chat session, the notes are there on the computer for them at any time.'
Hans added that the program was designed to fit around their work schedule with reading in their own time.
With people increasingly more aware of the health benefits of olive oil in helping lower cholesterol, olive production was now in the forefront of production horticulture in the country.
'Many areas in Australia are ideally suited for olive trees as they don't need much water. Australia could become the world's production house of olive oil in the future and internationally, our olive oil was growing in stature and winning many international medals.'
Olives are hardy, require minimum maintenance and be harvested quickly - over a hectare in an hour using a machine. They also do not require trellising like grapes.
Student David Rodgers, 33, of East Burwood, owns a 32-hectare property in Stanhope, near Kyabram, in Victoria, with business partner, Fred Andronikos.
They bought the property in October 2003 and planted 4800 olive trees last year and earlier this year. His varieties include Frantoio, Pendalino and Leccino.
Retrenched from his job as a field service technician with Optus last year after 10 years employment, David is now looking to carve out a new career as an olive oil producer and enrolled at NMIT to develop his knowledge and expertise and ensure he was doing all the correct things for his olive trees.
'I always had a passion for agriculture and horticulture since I was a kid playing on my relatives' farms on school holidays,' David said.
'I chose olives because they are a fairly new industry in Australia with a lot of potential.'
He said the online NMIT program saved him hours of travelling to a classroom, as well as saving on petrol costs, and he could fit the study around his 10-hour working day on his property.
'I also get to hear others producers' points of view and different ideas and that's a real bonus. It can be a complicated industry with so many different types of olives and you can always learn from others. The chat room conversation flows and helps me improve on what I'm doing.'
NMIT also runs Certificate III in Production Horticulture - Blueberry Establishment and Maintenance on line and on-site.
Program Inquiries: (03) 9269-1042
Interview / Photo Opportunity
Media enquiries should be directed to the NMIT Communications Officer, James Gardener, on (03) 92691579, 0413 483 182 or firstname.lastname@example.org
NMIT (Northern Melbourne Institute of TAFE) - Situated on seven campuses and six training centres throughout Melbourne's north, NMIT delivers vocational training, higher education and lifelong learning capabilities for a global workforce. NMIT forges partnerships with community, industry and government to produce practical, solution orientated graduates capable of making meaningful contributions to their chosen field of endeavour.
Interview / Photo Opportunity
Media enquiries should be directed to the NMIT Communications Officer, James Gardener.