Award-Winning Producer Says Croatians Need to Return to Their Traditional Roots

After climate change wreaked havoc on the 2021 harvest, one of Croatia’s leading producers believes the olive farming paradigm in the country must change.

Ivica Vlatković - Stara maslina
Nov. 30, 2021
By Nedjeljko Jusup
Ivica Vlatković - Stara maslina

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Producers and offi­cials recently met in the south­ern Croatian city of Split to dis­cuss the impacts of cli­mate change and mod­ern olive grow­ing.

Ivica Vlatković, the pres­i­dent of the Zadar County Olive Growers Association and an award-win­ning pro­ducer, was one of the key speak­ers at the event.

Trees that sprout from seeds develop a larger struc­tural root… Vegetative ones do not have that main struc­tural root. That is why they are less resis­tant to drought and strong winds.- Borislav Bore Pedić, olive farm­ing

While almost all par­tic­i­pants, includ­ing Croatian Minister of Agriculture Marija Vuckovic, talked mostly about irri­ga­tion, Vlatković high­lighted the need to revi­tal­ize neglected olive groves and encour­age the pro­duc­tion of seedlings on seedbeds (seed root­stocks), instead of on veg­e­ta­tively grown root­stocks prop­a­gated by cut­tings.

See Also:As the Harvest Gets Underway in Croatia, Officials Provide Safety Tips to Farmers

These seed root­stocks from wild olives are more durable and bet­ter able to with­stand drought dur­ing the devel­op­ment of the olives,” he said. After a few years of plant­ing on skele­tal soils, they can with­stand droughts, but also gusts of wind, which will not eas­ily uproot or upset them.

Unfortunately, most of the plants and seedlings in Croatian olive grow­ing are done via veg­e­ta­tively grown root­stocks prop­a­gated by cut­tings.

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According to Vlatković, such sub­strates are a cat in a bag,” mean­ing they are unpre­dictable. Primarily due to the for­ma­tion of a shal­low root sys­tem, future trees are depen­dent on sur­face water.

Additionally, when the canopy devel­ops, these trees are more likely to be dam­aged in places where high winds are com­mon.

Vlatković’s the­sis is also con­firmed by the suc­cess­ful olive grower Borislav Bore Pedić, who has more than 300 olive trees at four loca­tions in Ravni Kotari, a large agri­cul­tural region in north­ern Dalmatia.

At one of the loca­tions in Pridraza, he planted about 50 seedlings grafted to wild trees 20 years ago.

It hap­pened by acci­dent, and it turned out well,” Bore Pedić said. Here, for exam­ple, one year the wind uprooted nine of the 11 Cypress trees at the same loca­tion, and none of those were grafted from wild trees.”

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Olive trees were blown over during wind storms in Croatia earlier this year.

Trees that sprout from seeds develop a larger struc­tural root, which goes deeper into the ground,” he added. Vegetative ones, pro­duced from cut­tings, do not have that main struc­tural root. That is why they are less resis­tant to drought and, espe­cially, to strong winds.”

The prob­lem of shal­low roots is espe­cially pro­nounced when olives are planted with­out expert super­vi­sion and in shal­lower skele­tal soils. The trees develop less, are prone to irreg­u­lar fer­til­ity and are more sus­cep­ti­ble to drought.

They also are prone to dis­ease because they do not develop sym­bio­sis with arbus­cu­lar myc­or­rhiza in the roots, which helps them absorb nutri­ents and get rid of excess car­bon atoms that olives take from the atmos­phere for pho­to­syn­the­sis and car­bo­hy­drate pro­duc­tion.

These sub­strates are faster and eas­ier to grow and pro­duce,” Vlatković said. They are cheaper and that is why they have flooded us. In droughts and spring frosts like this year, they have no chance, and that is best seen now.”

One alter­na­tive to graft­ing trees with veg­e­ta­tively grown root­stocks prop­a­gated by cut­tings could be to reha­bil­i­tate Croatia’s older olive groves.

On the one hand, we are clear­ing forests and grind­ing rocky soils to form per­ma­nent water-depen­dent plan­ta­tions,” Vlatković said. On the other hand, we are not revi­tal­iz­ing already long-cul­ti­vated olives, planted on fer­tile soil by our grand­fa­thers.”

He added that he revi­tal­ized all his olive groves, includ­ing many trees that are 100 years old and boast thick roots to pro­tect the trees from wind and take in plenty of nutri­ents from the soil.

Vlatković acknowl­edged he owes his suc­cess to the gen­er­a­tions of Novigrad farm­ers who planted the olive trees long before him. He has also used the trees to graft new vari­eties, such as Pisholen marocca, Ascolane, Nocelare and Chamlala.

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Ivica Vlatković

Vlatković said all of these trees pro­vide him with a reg­u­lar yield and con­tribute to his olive oil qual­ity.

Among the 500 trees, one grew spon­ta­neously and nat­u­rally from a seedling. He calls the tree a mirac­u­lous olive. It ripens the ear­li­est and it is ready for har­vest on October 1.

Each year, the tree pro­duces col­or­ful fruits the size of Oblica olives a month before that vari­ety is ready to har­vest.

Vlatković claimed that sub­strates from old Oblica trees are as good as sub­strates from wild olive trees. Like any good sub­strate, it will require less irri­ga­tion, is likely to be more fer­tile and resis­tant to envi­ron­men­tal stres­sors.

However, there are a num­ber of obsta­cles fac­ing the wide­spread revi­tal­iza­tion of the Adriatic region’s old olive groves. Vlatković said all seven coun­tries in the region would need to com­pare agri­cul­tural incen­tive pro­grams with a local cadas­tral, or prop­erty map.

In Croatia, the cadas­tral shows the size of the prop­erty lot, what lands are ded­i­cated to agri­cul­ture and what crops are planted there.

By com­par­ing the agri­cul­tural incen­tive pro­grams and the cadas­tral, it is pos­si­ble to see what the orig­i­nal agri­cul­tural pur­pose of the plot was and whether there may be an old olive grove.

When hectares of county olive groves that are not cul­ti­vated are found, plans to revi­tal­ize the grove can be made depend­ing on its lay­out and size. Vlatković said that revi­tal­iz­ing the groves in this sys­tem­atic way would have a num­ber of ben­e­fits.

First, many of these aban­doned groves have young olive trees that are sta­ble with branched root sys­tems. Unlike many of their cul­ti­vated coun­ter­parts, these trees are not as depen­dent on irri­ga­tion and will bet­ter with­stand drought in the future and give sta­ble and good yields.

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Seed rootstocks from wild olives are more durable than vegetatively grown rootstocks propagated by cuttings.

The trees also come to fruition faster than new plant­i­ngs, espe­cially dur­ing dry years. Furthermore, if the groves are insured, the wild trees are more cost-effec­tive per cubic meter in droughts.

Second, the revi­tal­iza­tion of the groves would help con­trol pests in the area by elim­i­nat­ing a nat­ural reser­voir for them to breed. The neglected trees give a mea­ger yield every year, but pro­vide plenty of shel­ter and nutri­ents for pests.

Along with serv­ing as a reser­voir for pests, Vlatković said the neglected groves also serve as a tin­der box and would facil­i­tate the spread of wild­fires should one start in the area.

Encouraged by his pre­sen­ta­tion at a panel in Split, Minister of Agriculture Vučković said she would announce a ten­der for funds from the Rural Development Program for nurs­eries and seedlings.

The Minister men­tioned that the min­istry has announced a ten­der for the first nurs­ery that would deal with the pro­duc­tion of seedbeds, and that is to be com­mended, although I think it should have been done much ear­lier,” Vlatković said.

However, he needs to see the results of this com­mit­ment before he cel­e­brates. The sug­ges­tion has pre­vi­ously been brought to the min­istry, but noth­ing came of it.

Along with revi­tal­iz­ing olive groves and keep­ing more closely record­ing the state of the country’s groves, Vlatković thinks all future plant­i­ngs of per­ma­nent crops should be done with seedlings (gen­er­a­tively grown root­stocks from seeds) instead of veg­e­ta­tively grown root­stocks prop­a­gated by cut­tings.

In a few years, he argued that farm­ers would begin to see the ben­e­fits of grow­ing olive trees in this way. Vlatković said there would be more sta­ble yields with­out large oscil­la­tions.

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Revitalizing olive trees in Croatia

He said the sys­tem of national and local incen­tives for farm­ers could also be changed to pro­vide financ­ing for gen­er­a­tively grown root­stocks from seeds instead of expen­sive irri­ga­tion sys­tems.

This was also con­firmed by Marinko Galiot, head of the Unit for the Implementation of the National Program for Irrigation and Management of Agricultural Land and Waters, in Hrvatske vode.

In the last 15 years, we have pro­vided irri­ga­tion to over 30,000 hectares. This is still small, since the pro­gram plan was to irri­gate 65,000 hectares by 2020, which we did not achieve,” Galiot said. The prob­lem is the end-user, per­son or com­pany, who is inter­ested because our users are not will­ing to invest in irri­ga­tion.”

Vlatković said that by mak­ing this fun­da­men­tal change to olive grow­ing, Croatian farm­ers will be in a bet­ter posi­tion in the future.

He con­cluded that by mak­ing these changes, farm­ers would avoid large dis­par­i­ties in the nat­ural alter­nate bear­ing cycle of the olive tree and avoid har­vests such as the cur­rent one in which many parts of the coun­try expect extremely low yields or none at all.


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