Improving Olive Grove Biodiversity Helps Fight Xylella Fastidiosa and Climate Change

Scientists and farmers at the latest LIFE Resilience project workshop in Portugal discussed how nature and technology will shape the future of European olive growing.

Apr. 6, 2022
By Paolo DeAndreis

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Preventing the spread of Xylella fas­tidiosa and mit­i­gat­ing the impacts of cli­mate change on almond and olive grow­ing were the main focuses of the lat­est LIFE Resilience project work­shop in Elvas, Portugal.

Vasco Abreu, the com­mer­cial direc­tor of Nutripado and orga­nizer of the LIFE Resilience project work­shop, told Olive Oil Times that the project’s goal is to help farm­ers develop good agri­cul­tural prac­tices.

The goal of our projects under devel­op­ment within LIFE Resilience is to have nature as our ally.- Vasco Abreu, orga­nizer, LIFE Resilience project

Experts and farm­ers gath­ered in the cen­tral-east­ern Portuguese city to dis­cuss the use of tech­nol­ogy and bio­di­ver­sity to pre­vent the spread of dis­eases, how farm­ers could effec­tively reduce inputs such as fer­til­izer, water and pes­ti­cides and reduce the car­bon foot­print of mod­ern almond and olive farm­ing.

During the work­shop, experts said the deploy­ment of early detec­tion meth­ods is para­mount to pre­vent­ing the spread of Xylella fas­tidiosa in the plen­ti­ful high-den­sity and super-high-den­sity groves of Andalusia and Alentejo, the largest olive oil-pro­duc­ing regions in Spain and Portugal, respec­tively.

See Also:Conservationists Hope to Replicate Success of Biodiversity Project in Northeast Spain

The pre­ven­tion of this bac­terium is vital, with proper man­age­ment of the crop and the main­te­nance of a health sta­tus of the plan­ta­tions,” said José Carlos Caballero, a tech­ni­cal expert with the Spanish Association of Young Farmers and Ranchers (Asaja).

He empha­sized how coop­er­a­tion is essen­tial for the suc­cess of detec­tion and early warn­ing net­works to iden­tify early out­breaks and stem their spread.

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Technology should be con­sid­ered a tool that farm­ers can count on to enhance pro­duc­tion man­age­ment,” added Jorge Blanco, the research and devel­op­ment direc­tor at Greenfield Technologies, a project part­ner.

Blanco said the dig­i­tal­iza­tion of olive grove and almond farm man­age­ment might also attract younger peo­ple into the agri­cul­tural sec­tor and help to facil­i­tate the nec­es­sary gen­er­a­tional change.

The most recent tech­nolo­gies deployed in the pro­jec­t’s groves include drones that use ther­mal cam­eras to iden­tify infected trees via their tem­per­a­tures, con­duc­tiv­ity sen­sors that allow farm­ers to mon­i­tor soil mois­ture using GPS and satel­lite imagery to ana­lyze the plant devel­op­ment on the farm.

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Measuring olive tree temperatures with drones

While tech­nol­ogy has a role to play in man­ag­ing mod­ern olive groves more effec­tively and stem­ming the spread of dis­ease, the project orga­niz­ers empha­sized the role of bio­di­ver­sity in sus­tain­able mod­ern olive farm­ing.

Abreu said grow­ing nat­ural veg­e­ta­tion in olive and almond groves is essen­tial to fos­ter bio­di­ver­sity, improve their car­bon foot­print and enhance soil qual­ity.

In almond and olive fields, the veg­etable cover among rows can be adopted by grow­ing legu­mi­nous and other mixed plants which main­tain mois­ture in the soil and offer nutri­tion to a series of ben­e­fi­cial microbes, which fix nec­es­sary ele­ments in the soil,” Abreu said.

Applying this approach also means that farm­ing might also cap­ture car­bon, as the legu­mi­nous plant cover can sequester up to eight tons of car­bon per hectare,” he added. They also sequester nitro­gen, which enhances the fer­til­ity of the soil.”

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However, nitro­gen is just one of the three ele­ments nec­es­sary for plants to trans­form the sun’s energy into food. Pedro Fevereiro, the exec­u­tive direc­tor of Innovaplant Protect, told Olive Oil Times that improv­ing bio­di­ver­sity in olive groves helps fix the other two in the soil as well.

Each species of plants used as soil cover, be that legu­mi­nous or grass, holds spe­cific min­er­als, such as nitro­gen, potas­sium or phos­pho­rus, and microbes will be able to recy­cle those min­er­als reduc­ing the need for fer­til­iz­ers,” he said.

Fostering bio­di­ver­sity among the olive groves also helps reduce the num­ber of pests, some of which are vec­tors for Xylella fas­tidiosa, by pro­vid­ing an appro­pri­ate envi­ron­ment for their nat­ural preda­tors.

This project can effec­tively reduce the vec­tor insect pop­u­la­tion by adopt­ing struc­tures, such as bushes, flow­ers or other veg­etable cov­ers,” Fevereiro said. Biodiversity can also help tackle cli­mate change by reduc­ing fer­til­izer use and bring­ing farm­ers to more nature-friendly solu­tions. It can also reduce water usage or pes­ti­cides.”

In the exper­i­men­tal fields, some of the veg­e­ta­tive cover was specif­i­cally cho­sen to cre­ate habi­tats for a range of micro-organ­isms, insects and birds, some of which are nat­ural preda­tors of the meadow spit­tle­bug, a com­mon vec­tor of Xylella fas­tidiosa.

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Introducing nest boxes in olive groves to bring brids back to the ecosystem

This approach means that farm­ers should not focus only on the crops them­selves, but think of them as part of a com­plex sys­tem,” Fevereiro said. By tak­ing care of them and learn­ing how to enhance them, pro­duc­tiv­ity and health of the crops will be greatly improved.”

You need to work with nature and have a holis­tic approach to improve sus­tain­abil­ity and pro­duc­tion,” he added.

Another key find­ing of the LIFE Resilience project was the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of the Beauveria bassiana fun­gus, which appears to cur­tail meadow spit­tle­bug pop­u­la­tions effec­tively. Trials are under­way in Puglia, the region most affected by Xylella fas­tidiosa, to test the effi­cacy of deploy­ing an organic prod­uct in the field based on the fun­gus.

The goal of our projects under devel­op­ment within LIFE Resilience is to have nature as our ally,” Abreu said. That is a require­ment of the Farm to Fork strat­egy, which is now also an oppor­tu­nity for farm­ers.”

The experts in atten­dance at the con­fer­ence con­cluded that the solu­tions being designed and inno­vated through the LIFE Resilience project could ben­e­fit more than one mil­lion farm­ers across the Mediterranean basin.



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