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The Trump Cards of Climate Change in Olive Cultivation

For what it's worth, climate change, at least for olive oil production, may prove a blessing in disguise.

Jan. 11, 2017
By Stav Dimitropoulos

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The Aus­tralian Acad­emy of Sci­ence (AAS) defines cli­mate change as the change in the sta­tis­ti­cal prop­er­ties of the cli­mate sys­tem (such as aver­ages, vari­abil­ity and extremes) that per­sists for sev­eral decades or longer — usu­ally at least 30 years.

This change might be nat­ural or man-made, the AAS states. The for­mer may be hap­pen­ing because of nat­ural processes, such as changes in the Sun’s radi­a­tion, vol­ca­noes or inter­nal vari­abil­ity in the cli­mate sys­tem, the lat­ter are brought about as human activ­i­ties change the com­po­si­tion of the atmos­phere and soil.
See more: Research Sci­en­tist Luigi Ponti, On Olive Oil Pod­cast
And how about the pace of this change? Accord­ing to the National Aero­nau­tics and Space Admin­is­tra­tion (NASA) the Earth’s tem­per­a­ture has risen about one degree Fahren­heit in the last 100 years, caus­ing snow and ice to melt and oceans to rise, upset­ting even the tim­ing of when cer­tain plants grow. As it fol­lows, a change in cli­mate will influ­ence the ven­er­ated olive tree, too, no mat­ter its har­di­ness.

E.M. Kabourakis, the man­ager of the the Insti­tute of Viti­cul­ture, Flori­cul­ture and Veg­etable Crops (IVFVC) in Greece told Olive Oil Times, The change in pre­cip­i­ta­tion pat­terns as well as more extreme weather events like droughts, floods and immense heat waves that occur with greater fre­quency and increased inten­sity affect the crops and their pro­duc­tion, and the whole olive orchard agroe­cosys­tem.”

Aver­age air tem­per­a­tures have been ris­ing in the last decades, espe­cially dur­ing sum­mer. This tem­per­a­ture rise in com­bi­na­tion with pro­longed dry peri­ods affect among oth­ers the phe­nol­ogy, phys­i­ol­ogy and pro­duc­tiv­ity of cul­ti­vated plants, and more spe­cific, the olive trees,” Kabourakis said.

The issue of cli­mate change has too many facets for there to be a black and white approach. While cli­mate change tends to push our panic but­tons to the extent of con­tem­plat­ing new hab­it­able plan­ets, there might actu­ally be some trump cards’ to the change of cli­mate we are unaware of.

Par­tic­u­larly when it comes to grow­ing olive trees, cli­mate change, in very spe­cific respects, might prove a bless­ing in dis­guise as it can anni­hi­late the olive tree’s sworn enemy, Bac­tro­cera Oleae: the abhor­rent olive fly.

Regard­ing olive pro­duc­tion, this relates mostly to the effect of increas­ing sum­mer tem­per­a­tures to the pop­u­la­tion dynam­ics of the olive fly, the main olive tree pest, and the olive fruit dam­age,” con­firms Kabourakis. This is due to the olive fly sen­si­tiv­ity to tem­per­a­tures above 30° Cel­sius,” the researcher said.

Pre­vi­ous stud­ies in the field have already con­firmed that an aver­age 1.8°C rise in global tem­per­a­ture from 1960 to 2050 will boost the devel­op­ment of olive plan­ta­tions, dimin­ish­ing, at the same time, the fruit fly’s sur­vival rate.

The har­di­ness of the olive tree might with­stand warmer tem­per­a­tures, but fruit flies will not. This will be the case par­tic­u­larly for the Mediter­ranean basin, cul­ti­va­tor of 97 per­cent of olive trees glob­ally, where over the long term cli­mate change is expected to increase out­put by 4.1 per­cent — with the North­ern African coun­tries emerg­ing on the winner’s side, and East­ern Mediter­ranean coun­tries as well as the Mid­dle East on the loser’s.

Such hypothe­ses are shared by fel­low researchers, includ­ing Luigi Ponti, a sci­en­tist at Italy’s Sus­tain­able Devel­op­ment and Agro-Indus­trial Inno­va­tion unit, ENEA: It’s a com­bi­na­tion of the exten­sion of the grow­ing sea­son for the olive and the fact that the pest, the olive fly, is going to have a hard time,” Ponti said in a pod­cast inter­view with Olive Oil Times pub­lisher, Cur­tis Cord.

Addi­tion­ally, cli­mate change can open up macabre pos­si­bil­i­ties in the wider agri­cul­tural sec­tor.

For other crops, hot­ter and drier con­di­tions will expand the pos­si­bil­i­ties for out­door grown pro­duc­tion of veg­eta­bles, though this depends on the water avail­abil­ity,” said Kabourakis, who also stressed that cli­mate change will impact the econ­omy of the touris­tic olive oil-pro­duc­ing coun­tries, where the extended hot and dry sea­sons will tempt vis­i­tors to swarm the places beyond sum­mer and late spring/early fall sea­sons.



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