Researchers Test New Olive Varieties to Improve Sustainability

A team in Andalusia is testing a hedge cultivation system that could be more profitable for growers and sustainable for the environment.

Aug. 17, 2020
By Daniel Dawson

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Researchers in Andalusia are exper­i­ment­ing with new olive vari­eties to find ones that could be more sus­tain­able, both for farm­ers and the envi­ron­ment.

The main inten­tion of the trial is to iden­tify new vari­eties of olive trees that adapt to the hedge cul­ti­va­tion sys­tem, using cul­ti­va­tion tech­niques that have min­i­mal impact on the envi­ron­ment, but can be used in any grove.- Enrique de la Torre, CEO, Ingeoliva

On a farm in Lora del Río, just out­side of the provin­cial cap­i­tal of Seville, researchers from the Andalusian Institute for Agricultural and Fisheries Research (IFAPA) and agro­nomic engi­neers from Ingeoliva have planted sev­eral adapted olive vari­eties in a sys­tem of hedges.

The main inten­tion of the trial is to iden­tify new vari­eties of olive trees that adapt to the hedge cul­ti­va­tion sys­tem, using cul­ti­va­tion tech­niques that have min­i­mal impact on the envi­ron­ment, but can be used in any grove,” Ingeoliva CEO Enrique de la Torre told Olive Oil Times.

We have adapted vari­eties of more reluc­tant olive trees such as Picudo, Hojiblanca, Picual and Cornicabra, as well as almond and cit­rus trees to this sys­tem,” he added.

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In this medium-den­sity sys­tem, the trees are spaced out with 1.50 meters (4.9 feet) between each one and 5.0 meters (16.4 feet) between rows. These hedges will allow both for mech­a­nized har­vest­ing and the cre­ation of a bio­di­verse envi­ron­ment.

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De la Torre empha­sized that the idea is to cre­ate an ecosys­tem around the olive trees, with dif­fer­ent types of flow­ers, grasses and shrubs cre­at­ing homes for native wildlife, pre­vent­ing ero­sion and allow­ing for nat­ural air cir­cu­la­tion.

We want the planted trees to be in bet­ter con­di­tions and in bal­ance with the ecosys­tem, that’s why we make lines of trees with wider rows that allow bet­ter use of sun­light and water resources; wide spaces between which we plant a veg­e­ta­tive cover with selected native seeds that fix nutri­ents in the soil and attract ben­e­fi­cial wildlife,” he said. All of this means that the trees planted are more pro­duc­tive and less affected by pests.”

Last year, the amount of land cov­ered by organic olive groves in Spain increased by 4.8 per­cent com­pared with 2018, accord­ing to the country’s Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

Aside from the pos­i­tive envi­ron­men­tal impacts of these types of groves, one of the dri­ving forces behind the increase in organic olive cul­ti­va­tion is the prospect of adding value to tra­di­tion­ally-pro­duced olive oils.

After more than 18 months of his­tor­i­cally low olive oil prices, farm­ers and local offi­cials have been seek­ing new ways to add value for olive grow­ers.

De la Torre argues that this new type of bio­di­verse, medium-den­sity olive grove will also ben­e­fit from the added value pro­vided by organic cul­ti­va­tion and allow farm­ers to com­pete with super-high-den­sity groves.

They will be improved vari­eties, inter­est­ing for their pro­duc­tiv­ity, fat yield and oil com­po­si­tion,” he said. For this we must let them grow and pro­duce… We hope to have the first pre­lim­i­nary results of the trial after four years.”

In 2024, de la Torre and the researchers from IFAPA will ana­lyze the first har­vest from this exper­i­men­tal grove. If all goes well, the goal will be to quickly scale up and imple­ment this cul­ti­va­tion sys­tem through­out Andalusia.


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