INNOVATION, A KEY FACTOR FOR THE SUSTAINABILITY OF OLIVE GROVES

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Innovation is a key issue for competitiveness and viability in any sector; however, the challenges currently facing the olive grove make innovation an absolutely fundamental element for its sustainability, both from an environmental and economic point of view.

The production data of the last two seasons show a worrying scenario, which gives a glimpse of the potentially devastating consequences that climate change may bring to the olive grove. In addition, the challenge of generational replacement and the nominative demands on environmental impact, soil conservation and biodiversity contribute to a picture of high uncertainty for the olive grove and olive oils.

TOOLS FOR IMPROVEMENT

In this context, new sustainable management techniques, precision agriculture, artificial intelligence and the internet of things (IoT) are emerging as tools to improve the efficiency of the olive grove and reduce its environmental impact. The emergence of new sensors and advanced calibration techniques based on deep learning, as well as expert systems, can improve the process of virgin olive oil production, making it possible to achieve greater profitability through greater extraction efficiency and better use of the quality of the processed fruit. On the other hand, innovation in the use of by-products is another way to improve the profitability of the olive grove, opening up new sources of income that also make it possible to improve the environmental impact of the crop. Finally, innovation in the marketing of the different olive oils, with the search for new value propositions for consumers and potential new markets, also constitutes a very broad avenue in which to advance towards sustainability.

The multitude of calls for innovation project funding with these issues as the main focus of interest demonstrates the major importance given to these aspects by the different public administrations. This prioritisation by the administrations represents a unique opportunity to give a definitive boost to the adoption of collaborative innovation projects between companies and public research bodies as a fundamental tool for the advancement of the sector. This type of project allows companies to take on challenges that would be difficult to tackle alone, facilitating both economic and technical and operational aspects. On the one hand, the funding received in the form of subsidies allows for a significant reduction in the own resources dedicated to the project. On the other hand, the participation of researchers with previous experience in this type of projects facilitates the planning of the tasks to be carried out and allows the transfer of knowledge and research results between them and the company.

Pablo Cano Marchal, secretary of the University Institute for Research in Olive Oil and Olive Oils of the University of Jaén (INUO), states that in recent years, different research and transfer projects have been carried out in collaboration with a multitude of actors in the sector on many of these lines of innovation. These projects show the Institute’s commitment to promoting innovation and transferring research results to the productive sector, so that this research is not just reduced to published scientific articles, but has a direct and decisive impact on the transformation of the sector through innovation.

Pablo Cano Marchal-Secretary of INUO

Thus, the LIFE Comp0live project, financed with European funds, has worked on the development of seats for Ford vehicles and furniture made of improved plastics from olive pruning. Also financed with European funds is the ARTOLIO project, which focuses on helping small producers to improve the quality of EVOO production by incorporating innovation into the process.

The SOIL O-live project, which aims to study the health of Mediterranean olive grove soils and establish strategies for their care and regeneration, and which in its first year has analysed more than 5,200 soil samples; and the LIFE Olivares Vivos projects, focused on the recovery of olive grove biodiversity and the creation of value through its certification, and PRIMA-SUSTAINOLIVE, focused on different aspects of agroecology and sustainability in the olive grove. The success of these projects is reflected in the award of two new projects, Olivares Vivos + and OLIVER to continue research and transfer in these areas. We have also participated in projects of the different operational group calls, dealing with topics of maximum interest and transfer potential such as the estimation of the nutritional state of the olive tree using multispectral images taken by drones, the use of computer vision sensors to estimate the quality of the fruit received at the mill, carbon capture and the analysis of its footprint in the olive grove, and the early prediction of the harvest.

Innovation is an indispensable aspect for the future of the olive grove and collaborative projects are a magnificent tool for promoting it. These examples illustrate the wide range of topics addressed by INUO and the great diversity of calls for proposals and funding. We hope that they will serve as an invitation for the creation of new consortia for the submission of project proposals to facilitate the innovation of companies in the sector.

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