‘SOIL BIODIVERSITY STATUS AND FUNCTIONALITY OF MEDITERRANEAN OLIVE GROVE’ MAIN OBJECTIVE OF EUROPEAN SOIL O-LIVE PROJECT

The European Soil O-live project, financed with nearly 7 million euros within the framework of Soil Health and Food Mission of Horizon Europe R&D&I programme (2021-2027), is led by University Institute of Research on Olive and Olive Oil (INUO) and University of Jaén. Its coordinator, Antonio José Manzaneda, states that the main objective of this project is to study the effect of agricultural management on the general state of health of soils from Mediterranean olive groves and its impact on production and quality of olive oil produced in Mediterranean region.

This project entitled “Soil biodiversity and functionality of Mediterranean olive grove: a holistic analysis of influence of soil management on olive oil quality and safety” has a planned duration of five years and is structured in three phases.

The first pre-operational phase has a duration of 18 months, where a diagnosis of initial health of soils from 52 olive grove farms participating in the project is being carried out, as they are representative of main production areas of Mediterranean Basin. These farms are located in ‘Guadalquivir’ Valley and ‘La Subbética’ (Spain), Alentejo and Alto Douro (Portugal), Tuscany, Lazio and Sicily (Italy), Kalamata, Crete and Lesvos (Greece) and Beni Melal and Meknes (Morocco). In this phase, three main production models, traditional, organic and high density, are being analysed, assessing the presence of pesticide residues in soil, copper concentration and excess nitrification and salinity. Since the beginning of this phase 9 months ago, more than 5,200 samples have been collected in 52 plots described above, following the protocols and standards defined by European Union. In this way, researchers are analysing five replicates of each samples taken in the plots at two different depths, 10 and 20 centimetres, in order to study the effects of agricultural activity on different substrates in olive grove soil.

After 18 months, the second phase of project will begin, focusing on design of actions to restore and rehabilitate the soils of those plots where contamination and degradation problems have been detected. In fact, one of them is expected to be based on the use of electrochemical remediation for decontamination of metals and chemical remediation with the use of peroxides for degradation of pesticides in contaminated soils. On the other hand, in order to improve the deficiency of organic matter in most Mediterranean soils, organic amendments based on development of latest generation biochar will be used, together with implementation of natural covers associated with crop. This last point is crucial for control of runoff erosion, the main factor in soil degradation in olive groves in recent decades.

Finally, the last stage of project will last approximately two years, during which the impact of restoration actions carried out on the farms studied on general health of soil, the state of olive trees and their direct and indirect repercussions on the quality of olive oil will be evaluated, both through the analysis of their physical-chemical profile and their organoleptic characteristics. In addition, thresholds and new standards in application of phytosanitary products that affect biodiversity and functionality of soil will be determined for each agricultural production model.

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