Spain Deploys New Technology to Combat Olive Tree Pathogens

Spain's leading non-profit focused on agribusiness is deploying and testing a series of new early detection methods, biocontrol programs and biostimulants to help stem the spread of two deadly olive tree pathogens.

A leaf infected with Xylella fastidiosa.
Apr. 17, 2020
By Daniel Dawson
A leaf infected with Xylella fastidiosa.

Spain’s Agrifood Industrial Technology Center (Ainia) is devel­op­ing a series of new detec­tion meth­ods to help olive farm­ers iden­tify and stem the spread of com­mon pathogens before their symp­toms are man­i­fested.

Using hyper­spec­tral and ther­mal remote sens­ing, Ainia and its research part­ners will help iden­tify olive trees infected by Xylella fas­tidiosa and ver­ti­cil­lium, a fun­gus that attacks the roots of the olive tree and causes its leaves to wilt.

This mod­ern­iza­tion of cul­ti­va­tion prac­tices will affect the entire olive value chain: from the farmer, through the trans­former of the olive oil indus­try or table olives, to the final con­sumer.- Joaquín Espí, Ainia biotech­nol­ogy tech­ni­cian

Both Xylella and ver­ti­cil­lium have been spread­ing in Spain in recent years. According to new research pub­lished in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), if left unchecked, Xylella fas­tidiosa alone could cost the Spanish olive oil pro­duc­ers up to €17 bil­lion ($18.4 bil­lion) over the next half-cen­tury.

Using tra­di­tional meth­ods, it is cur­rently not pos­si­ble to detect the early onset of these two dis­eases in the olive groves. Officials at Ainia hope that the new detec­tion meth­ods they are work­ing to develop will allow out­breaks to be caught ear­lier on.

See more: More on Xylella Fastidiosa

Diseases that threaten the olive tree are one of the main con­cerns of farm­ers; espe­cially those that, due to their vir­u­lence, such as Xylella fas­tidiosa or ver­ti­cil­lio­sis, can destroy hectares of olive groves in a few years,” Ana Torrejón, a biotech­nol­ogy researcher at Ainia, said.

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Our objec­tive is to develop an inte­grated strat­egy that allows us to respond to the olive oil pro­duc­tion and olive oil sec­tor in the fight against these olive dis­eases, so that an indus­try of great impor­tance in our coun­try can con­tinue to progress,” she added.

The researchers plan to use drones to con­duct the hyper­spec­tral and ther­mal remote sens­ing. These drones would fly over the groves and cre­ate three-dimen­sional maps of the olive trees, detect­ing wave­lengths of light that can­not be per­ceived by the human eye.

These same wave­lengths, how­ever, can give researchers infor­ma­tion about the health of the olive trees and pro­vide them with a win­dow of oppor­tu­nity to detect the onset of the dis­ease before the symp­toms have been phys­i­cally man­i­fested.

Along with test­ing new detec­tion meth­ods, Ainia is also work­ing to develop new bio­con­trol mea­sures and bios­tim­u­lants.

Once fully devel­oped and tested, the researchers believe that the bio­con­trol mea­sures would present a sus­tain­able and organic alter­na­tive for farm­ers who want to avoid using pes­ti­cide regimes to pre­vent the spread of the insects that serve as the main vec­tors for the two dis­eases.

Researchers also hope to be able to develop bios­tim­u­lants that could be applied to olive trees and help increase their resis­tance to envi­ron­men­tal stres­sors, such as pests, which make them more vul­ner­a­ble to the dis­ease.

When asked what types of bio­con­trol mea­sures and bios­tim­u­lants were being tested, Ainia declined to com­ment and said they pre­ferred to wait for con­crete results before dis­cussing the type and effec­tive­ness of their mea­sures.

However, the researchers empha­sized that any­thing they could learn from these detec­tion and pre­ven­tion tri­als would help stake­hold­ers through­out the olive sec­tor in the long run.

This mod­ern­iza­tion of cul­ti­va­tion prac­tices will affect the entire olive value chain: from the farmer, through the trans­former of the olive oil indus­try or table olives, to the final con­sumer; that they will be able to access prod­ucts pro­duced in a sus­tain­able way, free of chem­i­cal phy­tosan­i­tary prod­ucts,” Joaquín Espí, a tech­ni­cian from the Ainia biotech­nol­ogy depart­ment, said.





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