New Olive Trees Are Being Planted in Xylella-Ravaged Puglia

A new law in Italy has changed monitoring and removal operations in Xylella-plagued areas. Funds are being used to replant trees and compensate millers.

By Paolo DeAndreis
Dec. 1, 2021 12:48 UTC

Delegates of the regional assem­bly in Puglia have unan­i­mously sup­ported an updated regional law that pro­poses a recov­ery plan for areas affected by Xylella fas­tidiosa.

The new leg­is­la­tion adheres to the lat­est European Union reg­u­la­tions set to cur­tail the spread of the deadly olive tree pathogen.

Farmers and olive oil millers have to be com­pen­sated, and olive oil pro­duc­tion must restart. We should con­tribute not only to olive tree re-implants but also to the plant­ing of new species.- Giannicola D’Amico, vice-pres­i­dent, CIA Puglia

Supporters believe it will bet­ter mon­i­tor the bacteria’s spread while also focus­ing on what the affected areas must do to return to pro­duc­tiv­ity.

See Also:An Estimated 33,000 Jobs Lost to Xylella Fastidiosa in Puglia

The new rules allow farm­ers to begin replant­ing olive trees in infected areas if mon­i­tor­ing oper­a­tions show that the bac­te­ria has been erad­i­cated and there will be no risk for its fur­ther spread­ing.”

The leg­is­la­tion comes as a relief to local farm­ers, many of whom have been wait­ing for a fresh start after nearly a decade of deal­ing with Xylella fas­tidiosa.

In the last eight years, author­i­ties esti­mate that Xylella fas­tidiosa has infected more than 21 mil­lion olive trees across Puglia, which is Italy’s most impor­tant olive oil-pro­duc­ing region by a wide mar­gin.

The new mea­sures require plants infected with Xylella fas­tidiosa to be removed accord­ing to the risk they rep­re­sent for the fur­ther spread­ing of the bac­te­ria.

They also ask for spe­cific mon­i­tor­ing oper­a­tions to be exe­cuted in the sur­round­ing areas. Along with olive trees, Xylella fas­tidiosa infects hun­dreds of other plant species. The lat­est addi­tion to the European Food Safety Authority offi­cial list brought the total num­ber of Xylella-nest­ing plants to 595.

Xylella fas­tidiosa pauca is the sub­species that infects olive trees and 33 other plant species. It is the most preva­lent sub­species in Puglia.


Puglia, Italy

The new laws have also ended the require­ment to remove all sus­cep­ti­ble plants within a 100-meter radius of an infected plant. Instead, within the so-called red zones or con­tain­ment areas, the new approach is to destroy all infected plants imme­di­ately.

Whereas the landowner should reject the removal of the infected tree, he or she will have to pro­ceed to iso­lat­ing the plant from the exter­nal ter­ri­tory by apply­ing mechan­i­cal pro­tec­tions and hood­ing of the trees,” the leg­is­la­tion reads.

Such iso­la­tion will be fol­lowed by prun­ing the trees and by all oper­a­tions needed to com­bat the vec­tors of the bac­te­ria, those known to be such and those that could be poten­tial vec­tors, such as the mow­ing of all grass, the tillage of the land after that and the treat­ment with approved phy­tosan­i­tary prod­ucts,” the leg­is­la­tion con­tin­ues.

Several insect species are known vec­tors of Xylella fas­tidiosa, respon­si­ble for spread­ing the bac­te­ria from an infected plant to oth­ers.

Given their rel­e­vance to the cul­ture and land­scape, spe­cial atten­tion will be given to the most ancient olive trees in the area, the so-called mon­u­men­tal olive trees.

The new rules also for­bid the destruc­tion of the mil­lenary olive trees if the plants are not found to be infected, even if they are located in red zones.

One of the worst-affected areas in Puglia is the renowned Plain of the Monumental Olive Trees, located in the munic­i­pal­i­ties of Ostuni, Fasano, Monopoli and Carovigno. Some of the trees are believed to be up to 3,000 years old.


Antonella Scatigna, a well-known chef in Locorotondo, not far from Bari, told Olive Oil Times that locals feel threat­ened by Xylella fas­tidiosa as it moves north and con­tin­ues to infect olive trees. In the last few weeks, dozens of trees had to be destroyed in the area.

We feel the Xylella spread­ing on our skin,” said Scatigna, who noted how many fam­i­lies still have small groves and how con­nected the local cul­ture is to olive grow­ing.

Our Leccino trees are a major olive cul­ti­var for us, and they are known for their resilience to Xylella,” he said. Still, many vul­ner­a­ble cul­ti­vars risk being infected just like they were in Brindisi and Salento.”

Salento is a cul­tural and his­tor­i­cal por­tion of south­ern Puglia that was the first to be severely hit by the Xylella out­breaks.

See Also:Puglia Warns Farmers of Ineffective Xylella Fastidiosa Cures

Olive trees there are fright­en­ing, the beauty of some loca­tions turned into a ghostly land­scape, a mass of cen­turies-old trees burned, dried up by their deadly enemy,” Scatigna said.

According to the regional sec­re­tary of agri­cul­ture, Donato Pentassuglia, new mon­i­tor­ing oper­a­tions are already under­way in the Plain of the Monumental Olive Trees.

Thanks to the sac­ri­fices of local grow­ers, we can still hope to save two mil­lion trees in the Ostuni area and the more than six mil­lion trees in the plain, while also avoid­ing Xylella spread­ing fur­ther north, above the buffer zone.”

Additionally, farm­ers and local author­i­ties are work­ing to restore agri­cul­tural activ­i­ties where pos­si­ble. Coldiretti has esti­mated that the cur­rent funds for restor­ing oper­a­tions and sup­port­ing new olive and other native tree implants should rise to at least €700 mil­lion.

While not exclud­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of ear­mark­ing addi­tional funds, the Ministry of Agriculture has already pro­vided €300 mil­lion in invest­ment.

According to the new plan, €20 mil­lion will be used for plant­ing new groves com­posed of Xylella-resis­tant cul­ti­vars, such as Leccino and Favolosa. Previously, the money was going to be used for the removal of dead trees. Local farm­ers have made more than 8,000 requests for funds to renew their groves.

A fur­ther €5 mil­lion will be used to pro­tect the Plain of the Monumental Olive Trees, while €5.7 mil­lion will go to olive oil millers, hun­dreds of whom have lost their income.

However, start­ing over in the areas where it is tech­ni­cally pos­si­ble will not be easy, accord­ing to local farm­ers. They said the spread of Xylella fas­tidiosa has hurt the olive-grow­ing and oil-pro­duc­ing econ­omy in the region to the point that there has been a fun­da­men­tal shift in the social and entre­pre­neur­ial fab­ric of the area.

The territory’s olive oil cul­ture is at risk of dis­ap­pear­ing,” accord­ing to the Apulian Confederation of Agricultural Producers (Copagri).

Tommaso Battista, Copagri’s pres­i­dent, said a broader strat­egy to cre­ate con­di­tions for a pos­si­ble cohab­i­ta­tion of olive trees with inva­sive species, such as Xylella fas­tidiosa, is nec­es­sary.

We can­not limit replant­i­ngs to Leccino and Favolosa,” he said. We can­not even think to focus on just a few cul­ti­vars des­tined to the recon­ver­sion of the pro­duc­tion, because that would hit bio­di­ver­sity in ter­ri­to­ries whose envi­ron­ment has already been com­pro­mised and suf­fer­ing from heavy water scarcity.”

According to Battista, the most empha­sis on the recov­ery should be put into research activ­i­ties, which are cur­rently receiv­ing €15 mil­lion, and the pro­mo­tion of the good prac­tices that have shown to con­tribute in lim­it­ing the spread­ing of the infec­tion, such as the plant­ing of plant species not vul­ner­a­ble to Xylella and use­ful to com­bat the stink bug.”

The mar­morated stink bug, an inva­sive species from East Asia, is one of the main vec­tors of the bac­te­ria.

The Italian Agricultural Confederation (CIA) added that pro­duc­tion recon­ver­sion should not be lim­ited to olive trees.

Farmers and olive oil millers have to be com­pen­sated, and olive oil pro­duc­tion must restart,” said Giannicola D’Amico, the CIA Apulian branch vice-pres­i­dent. We should con­tribute not only to olive tree re-implants but also to the plant­ing of new species such as almond, cherry and cit­rus. The goal is to give a new birth for a land suited to agri­cul­ture.”

If we want to favor the new implants, we need to move beyond the land­scape con­straints con­nected to olive grow­ing because those impede the recon­struc­tion,” he added. This is why we ask for new sim­pli­fied mea­sures about the land­scape pro­tec­tion, the re-implant and the species recon­ver­sion, as well as the cadas­tral merg­ing of the farm­lands in the infected areas.”

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