Year 12 | 27 January 2020 | TO ENTER | TO REGISTER

Olive culture and environment: an economic challenge

A sustainable olive grove produces more than a traditional one, with a comparable quality. If the government introduced the registers for carbon credits in agriculture too...

Prof. Cristos Xiloyannis (Università della Basilicata) has expressed the hope that the Italian government would introduce a regulation of carbon credits registers in agriculture, too.

Although bureaucracy is killing olive cultivators, Prof. Xilovannis is sure that such a reform would be welcome since it would mean some hundreds euro per cultivated hectare every year. Other than increasing the small incomes of several farmers, this type of measure would help in the safeguard of the environment and of the fertility of soils, and in complying with the requirements of the Kyoto protocol. According to the findings of Prof. Xilovanni’s research group at the Dipartimento di Scienze dei Sistemi Colturali, Forestali e dell’Ambiente of Università della Basilicata, a traditional olive grove produces 6 yearly tons of CO2, whereas a sustainable system, which can be set up with few simple measures, can “store” up to 15-20 tons. One carbon credit being worth 20 to 30 euro on the market, the math is easy: an olive cultivator could cash in 300 to 450 euro per hectare per year, far more than most Psr give for an integrated management.

Moreover, if the whole Italian olive culture moved to a sustainable system, it could reduce the CO2 emission of the country of up to 23 million tons, that is about 25% of the total cuts that Italy will have to guarantee in order to comply with the Kyoto protocol.

The benefit would be apparent from the quantitative standpoint, while ten years of experimentation have shown no downside, in terms of quality. The sustainable olive grove only needs a moderate quantity of water, that can come from the local depurators, can benefit from a state of permanent grass growth, from a mineral topdressing based upon the real needs of the plants, and also from cutting the residuals of the trimming that remain on the field.
The average production of an experimental sustainable olive grove over 8 years has been 9.7 tons of olives per hectare, in contrast to the 4,2 tons of the traditional olive grove. The tables below show no significant difference in the chemical properties of the two oils.

Analysis of the two oils obtained with different managment

These stats hint that a sustainable olive grove is worth from an economic standpoint too, also because it preserves the fertility for future generations of farmers.
In Basilicata the percentage of organic substance in the soil are very low, slightly higher than 1%, which is the threshold for the risk of desertification of a land. This means that several years are necessary to restore the original fertility. The grass growth and the trimming can help, but it was estimated that 14 years will be needed to increase of 1% the organic substance content of the more superficial 30 cm of soil.

From the point of view of the marketability of a sustainable product, the use of certification systems able to control the productive process can help to declare on the brand the quantity of CO2 stored for every bottle of oil. This would represent a far more reliable index of the environmental sensibility of the farm, which could be very interesting for the ever more careful environmental friendly consumers.

The profit and loss account hypothesized by Prof. Xilovannis’ research predicts an active of 4800 euro per hectare per year, in opposition to the 21 euro per hectare per year of the traditional system.

by Alberto Grimelli
05 april 2010, Technical Area > Olive & Oil