Antonio J. Manzaneda, Soil O-live project coordinator (left) and researcher and project technician, Víctor Valenzuela

University Institute of Research on Olive and Olive Oils (INUO) and University of Jaén are leading European project Soil O-live with funding of almost 7 million euros within the framework of the Soil Health and Food Mission of the Horizon Europe R&D&I programme (2021-2027). After seven months since it began, nearly 5,200 samples have now been taken in the 52 plots located in different areas of Europe and North Africa, in order to analyse the effect of agricultural management on overall health status of Mediterranean olive grove soils. In addition, this research aims to study the impact of different types of agricultural management on the production and quality of olive oils produced in these areas.

Based on protocols and standards established by European Union, researchers have taken five replicates in each plot in two different depths, 10 and 20 centimetres, and it will therefore be able to analyse the effects of agricultural activity on different substrates in olive groves. On the other hand, when selecting the different plots, we have taken into account the representation of various olive cultivation systems present in the Mediterranean basin, traditional, intensive and organic, so that a comparative study can be established between them. In this sense, it has been decided to take samples in points of Mediterranean Arc with an olive-growing tradition, such as South of Portugal, island of Lesbos, Crete, region of Kalamata (Greece), Tuscany, Lazio and Sicily (Italy), Morocco and South of Spain. After the sampling, researchers of project have started to process them in the facilities of University of Jaén to obtain the first results.

Classification of olive grove soil samples at UJA facilities.

Project Coordinator and researcher of INUO Ecology Unit, Antonio J. Manzaneda, has highlighted the interest shown by the European Union, since it has become directly involved in the project in order to obtain first-hand knowledge of the data obtained on the current state of the soils. He also points out that “the extent of the samples collected will allow us to have an accurate and up-to-date picture of state of olive grove soils. Based on this, we will propose a restoration programme on the selected farms where the soil is most degraded. Our idea is to focus on organic amendment based on biochar and the maintenance of vegetation covers, which are the most promising tools we have at the moment“.

In short, first advances of the Soil O-live project have been described, whose objectives are to analyse the impact of contamination and degradation of olive soils in terms of multi-biodiversity, ecological function at different levels of organisation and scales; to investigate relationship of soil health status with olive oil quality and food safety; to implement effective soil amendments and ecological restoration practices that promote improvements in soil biodiversity and functionality in Mediterranean olive groves, which should translate into improvements in olive oil quality and safety; to implement effective soil amendments and ecological restoration practices that promote improvements in soil biodiversity and functionality in Mediterranean olive groves, which should translate into improvements in olive oil quality and safety; to define rigorous ecological thresholds that will allow the implementation of future clear rules and regulations to design a certification of healthy soils in European olive groves.

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