Researchers Unveil the Latest Technologies to Help Harvest and Produce Olive Oil

Spanish researchers have worked to develop new technologies in response to what some of the industry's largest stakeholders said they needed most.

Interprofessional Association of Spanish Olive Oil
Apr. 6, 2022
By Daniel Dawson
Interprofessional Association of Spanish Olive Oil

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After four years, the researchers behind the Innolivar project pre­sented some of their work at the University of Córdoba in Andalusia.

The project focused on devel­op­ing 12 sep­a­rate pieces of tech­nol­ogy and lines of inves­ti­ga­tion related to the mech­a­niza­tion of olive groves, improv­ing sus­tain­abil­ity, cli­mate change mit­i­ga­tion tac­tics and devel­op­ing biotech­nol­ogy and trace­abil­ity tech­nol­ogy.

If we man­age to get some or many of the pro­to­types into the com­mer­cial phase… it will make the Spanish olive grove more com­pet­i­tive and facil­i­tate its inter­na­tional expan­sion- Jesús Gil Ribes, sci­en­tific direc­tor, Innolivar

Since the project began in 2017, researchers from the uni­ver­sity and their part­ners in the pri­vate sec­tor have worked to develop new patents and build pro­to­types that will even­tu­ally be sold to olive farm­ers and oil pro­duc­ers in response to what some of the indus­try’s largest stake­hold­ers told the researchers they needed most.

Among the tech­nolo­gies devel­oped by the researchers were two meant to help both tra­di­tional grow­ers and high-den­sity farm­ers.

See Also:Andalusia Plans an Olive Oil Center in Jaén

For tra­di­tional grow­ers, the researchers devel­oped a mul­ti­pur­pose vehi­cle for work in slop­ing olive groves that are dif­fi­cult to mech­a­nize.”

Jesús Gil Ribes, a pro­fes­sor of agro­forestry at the University of Córdoba and the pro­jec­t’s sci­en­tific direc­tor, told Olive Oil Times the researchers decided to develop this project due to the high num­ber of deaths in Spain caused by over­turned trac­tors, which he esti­mated at one each week.

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In Andalusia, the main pro­duc­ing region, with almost 80 per­cent of the total, there are more than half a mil­lion hectares with aver­age slopes greater than 15 per­cent and more than a quar­ter of a mil­lion with more than 25 per­cent,” he said.

The new vehi­cles fea­ture artic­u­lated joints on each of the four inde­pen­dent wheels, which along with the help of hydraulic cylin­ders, allow the vehi­cle to change its track width and cen­ter of grav­ity while mov­ing on slopes.

In addi­tion, the cabin is self-lev­el­ing, and the trac­tor can work on side slopes of up to 45 per­cent,” Gil Ribes added.

As a result, the new vehi­cle will allow tra­di­tional farm­ers to work on steeper slopes. He added that the vehi­cle also fea­tures numer­ous hitches, allow­ing farm­ers to use dif­fer­ent tools simul­ta­ne­ously.

Meanwhile, the researchers have man­u­fac­tured a self-pro­pelled har­vester for high-den­sity groves to quickly and effi­ciently gather the olives.

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Interprofessional Association of Spanish Olive Oil

Gil Ribes said the idea behind this machine is to reduce the num­ber of peo­ple required to har­vest the olives.

Instead of the tra­di­tional teams of 10 peo­ple, includ­ing the machine oper­a­tory and crew that helped move the can­vas and col­lect the fallen fruit, the new machine will reduce the num­ber to two or three.

The goal of these har­vesters is to reduce the cost of col­lect­ing olives. However, Gil Ribes said they could also be adapted to other crops, includ­ing cit­rus and almonds.

There are two types of com­bines devel­oped,” he said. Those based on trunk vibra­tion and simul­ta­ne­ous mechan­i­cal shak­ing of the crown, which is done by olive grow­ers who are rid­ing har­vesters on inten­sive [high-den­sity] olive groves and who need the help of auto­mated sup­port sys­tems to detect trunks by the vibra­tor clamp and for its vibra­tion. This work is inter­mit­tent.”

There are also those based on lat­eral cup shak­ers equipped with trunk detec­tion sys­tems that allow their dri­ving to be semi-auto­mated and olive tree crown detec­tion sys­tems so that the shaker ele­ments can auto­mat­i­cally adapt to them. This work is con­tin­u­ous,” Gil Ribes added.

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Interprofessional Association of Spanish Olive Oil

Both types require adapted prun­ing, which is not too demand­ing, and they have remote track­ing and har­vest mon­i­tor­ing sys­tems,” he con­tin­ued.

Researchers also inves­ti­gated new olive vari­eties to adapt to high-den­sity and super-high-den­sity groves.

Sikitita, Sikitita Dos, Martina and seven advanced selec­tions from the University of Córdoba and the Andalusian Institute for Agricultural and Fisheries Research (IFAPA) breed­ing pro­gram are being tested in the groves.

In 2021, the first sig­nif­i­cant har­vest was har­vested in the four tri­als, and it is planned to con­tinue eval­u­at­ing them for at least five more years,” Gil Ribes said.

Along with tech­nol­ogy to help farm­ers’ pro­duc­tiv­ity, the researchers also spent con­sid­er­able time focus­ing on sus­tain­abil­ity, includ­ing the devel­op­ment of an intel­li­gent atom­izer, which allows farm­ers to apply pes­ti­cides at dif­fer­ent times and con­cen­tra­tions, depend­ing on the need of the tree.

Gil Ribes said the goal was to reduce the pes­ti­cide required to keep the olives safe from pests and dis­eases.

Among the tech­nolo­gies devel­oped for this end were auto­matic detec­tion sys­tems that use two three-dimen­sional cam­eras or ultra­sound sen­sors to scan the trees in real-time and apply pes­ti­cides as nec­es­sary. Gil Ribes said these sys­tems are 35 per­cent more effi­cient.

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Interprofessional Association of Spanish Olive Oil

The researchers also devel­oped refrig­er­a­tion units for the pes­ti­cides, which pre­vents them from evap­o­rat­ing as quickly, and remote mon­i­tor­ing and spray­ing con­trols that upload data online, allow­ing farm­ers to mon­i­tor their use more con­cisely.

They are more expen­sive but more effi­cient equip­ment that will reduce the use of phy­tosan­i­tary prod­ucts as required by the European Commission’s Farm-to-Fork strat­egy,” he said.

The researchers also designed machin­ery to gather and shred all the refuse from prun­ing the olive trees in the spring, which will simul­ta­ne­ously remove a vec­tor for many com­mon pests and allow pro­duc­ers to cre­ate mulch and com­post.

Researchers also devel­oped biotech­ni­cal prod­ucts to help farm­ers stem the spread of com­mon pests and dis­eases affect­ing olive trees, includ­ing an ento­mopath­o­genic fungi for­mu­la­tion to kill the olive fruit fly sus­tain­ably. Other prod­ucts that kill the microor­gan­isms respon­si­ble for ver­ti­cil­lium wilt are also being tested.

However, Gil warned that the biotech­nol­ogy projects have a much longer-term time scale due to var­i­ous bureau­cratic hur­dles.

Biotech projects [aimed at fight­ing dis­eases] need a long and expen­sive approval process,” he said. But there are com­pa­nies will­ing to do it.”

Along with research­ing means and tech­nolo­gies to improve olive farm­ing, Innolivar also focused on oil pro­duc­tion and trace­abil­ity. Researchers designed pro­to­types to help auto­mate the milling and fil­ter­ing process.

Among these is a pro­to­type that Gil Ribes said would help with the clas­si­fy­ing and sort­ing of olives as soon as they arrive in the mill with­out super­vi­sion from a per­son.

This pro­to­type allows batches to be clas­si­fied accord­ing to their state of matu­rity, tem­per­a­ture, degree of dirt­i­ness and pres­ence of dam­age,” he said.

On the other hand, Prototype 7 Automation of the fil­ter­ing process is a sys­tem that allows con­tin­u­ous con­trol and action on the degree of tur­bid­ity of the oil and the pres­ence of impu­ri­ties, in an auto­mated and dig­i­tal­ized way,” Gil Ribes added.

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Interprofessional Association of Spanish Olive Oil

Automation in the mill will add value to the olive oil in terms of trace­abil­ity because the data about the olives can be tracked through­out the trans­for­ma­tion process.

Costs can be reduced because pro­to­types require less labor because they are embed­ded in a data model oper­ated from the cloud and do not require a phys­i­cal pres­ence,” Gil Ribes said.

Away from the pro­duc­tion side, the researchers also worked on devel­op­ing chem­i­cal tast­ing instru­ments to deter­mine and iden­tify the chem­i­cal com­pounds respon­si­ble for the olive oil’s fla­vors and aro­mas. Gil Ribes described the machines as an elec­tronic nose and mouth.”

These instru­ments work by ana­lyz­ing oil sam­ples from each cat­e­gory and cre­at­ing char­ac­ter­is­tic pro­files for each of them,” Gil Ribes added.

One pro­to­type does this by ana­lyz­ing the volatile com­pounds present in a gram of oil with­out chem­i­cal reagents.

The oil sam­ple is gen­tly heated to encour­age the removal of volatiles, and these are sep­a­rated in a gas chro­mato­graph and detected in an ion mobil­ity spec­trom­e­ter or mass spec­trom­e­ter,” Gil Ribes said.

On the other hand, the sec­ond designed pro­to­type ana­lyzes the com­pounds that the taster appre­ci­ates in the mouth,” he added. In this case, it is nec­es­sary to extract the polar com­pounds from the oil. They are ana­lyzed using ionic mobil­ity spec­trom­e­try that can option­ally be cou­pled to a spec­trom­e­ter of masses.”

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Interprofessional Association of Spanish Olive Oil

The results pro­vided by these two machines cre­ate a spec­tral fin­ger­print” for the oil that can later be used to iden­tify it.

Gil Ribes said that the devel­op­ment of these machines required at least 300 sam­ples of olive oil made from dif­fer­ent vari­eties, geo­graph­i­cal areas and har­vest sea­sons. Then, the results from each test were com­pared with the results obtained from two tast­ing pan­els.

Once the instru­ments have been cal­i­brated with this num­ber of sam­ples, they could work auto­mat­i­cally for years assign­ing the cat­e­gory of an oil sam­ple with a high degree of reli­a­bil­ity, at a very low cost per sam­ple,” he said.

While the top­ics cov­ered by the researchers over the past four years have been quite eclec­tic, Gil Ribes said the goal for all of them is the same: to make Spanish olive oil pro­duc­ers more com­pet­i­tive on the global mar­ket.

If we man­age to get some or many of the pro­to­types into the com­mer­cial phase (there are already three lines that have reached the mar­ket), it will make the Spanish olive grove more com­pet­i­tive and facil­i­tate its inter­na­tional expan­sion,” he said.

The improve­ment of its mech­a­niza­tion, the con­trol of ero­sion, the improve­ment of the mills, the chem­i­cal tast­ing, the bio­log­i­cal fight against pests and dis­eases, the new vari­eties for hedgerows of which in prac­tice only two are avail­able, and the trace­abil­ity from the field to the con­sumer are all key aspects in this regard,” Gil Ribes con­cluded.


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