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Striking Oil

WHEN TANUJA Sanders and her husband Keith relocated to rural Western Australia in the late 1990s, making olive oil was not part of the plan. The pair had been sub-contracted by Transfield to work on the expansion of the Worsley Alumina bauxite mine and decided to put down roots in the area. They purchased a picturesque 40 ha property near Bunbury and set about building a house. At the house-warming party, a neighbour suggested to Sanders that she plant some olive trees on a 12 ha parcel of empty land at the front of the property. “I ended up buying 2500 trees,” she says, laughing. “I thought it could be a fun hobby.” That hobby would eventually become the Sathya Olive Company, a thriving enterprise that now cultivates about 30 t of olives per year. Overseen by Tanuja Sanders, whose background ENGINEERSAUSTRALIA.ORG.AU is in project-managing power plants, the company produces extra virgin olive oil that has won awards from Perth to the US. Some of the couple’s success can be attributed to the location of their property, atop sandy soil in a sun-drenched corner of WA. “We’re blessed with beautiful weather and land that is very conducive to growing olives,” says Sanders. Because sandy soil drains more freely than clay-based earth, the couple’s trees are less susceptible to common diseases caused by water logging. But sandy soil poses challenges, too. “Because the soil drains so easily, the trees require frequent watering,” says Sanders. “And all that water leaches essential minerals from the soil.” She realised that the long-term success of her olive grove would depend on how effectively it was irrigated and fertilised. First, she installed bore pumps that could pump large volumes of water at speed. Then she turned her mind to fertilisation. Sanders knew that small-scale fertigation — injecting fertilisers into an irrigation system — was established agricultural practice. But she needed to replicate that technique on a larger scale. “It was difficult to dose precisely because bore pumps are very powerful and the flow rate varies,” she says. “We couldn’t just pump X amount of fertiliser into the water.”


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