In its first year, the European Soil O-Live project analyzes more than 5,200 soil samples, participates in a hundred forums and reaches out to thousands of farmers

The European Soil O-Live project has analyzed in this first year more than 5,200 soil samples from 52 plots in different parts of Europe and North Africa. In addition, researchers of this initiative, one of the most important currently being developed in the European Union, have participated in a hundred forums in cities such as Madrid, Brussels, Rome, Berlin, etc. Likewise, through direct training actions they have reached several thousand farmers, mainly in Andalusia (Jaen, Cordoba, Malaga, among others); Extremadura and olive-growing areas of Italy, Greece and Morocco.

This project, which is coordinated by the University of Jaén, is in its first phase and will run for four more years. The overall objective is to study the state of health of Mediterranean olive grove soils, to analyze the impact of pollution and land degradation on Mediterranean olive grove soils in terms of multi-biodiversity and to establish strategies for their care and regeneration.

According to the researcher responsible for coordinating the project, Antonio Manzaneda, Professor of Ecology at the University of Jaén, after more than fifty years of intensive agriculture, the environmental situation of many olive groves in the Mediterranean region is quite dramatic in terms of land degradation, impoverishment of biodiversity and general loss of functionality.

The results derived from Soil O-Live will be used by the European Union to better understand the soil health of the Mediterranean olive grove and to design more precise agricultural policies in European olive cultivation in relation to environmental sustainability and the quality and safety of olive oils.

Moreover, during this year, project partners have been informing farmers in their own cooperatives and mills through 17 trainings in Andalusia and Extremadura, an action that has been developed together with the multinational Deoleo Global, a company that is part of the Soil O-Live consortium. They have also been in farms participating in the project, in Chiclana de Segura, Santisteban del Puerto, in Jaén or in Finca La Torre in Antequera, Málaga, among others.

Antonio Manzaneda has represented the project in important forums such as the Food2023 International Conference in Brussels; in the European Mission Soil Week 2023 or in the Soil Observatory of the European Union, together with Pasquale Borrelli.

Other researchers of the project, such as Gabriela Moreno, from the Working Group “Soil Erosion and Land Degradation” of the University of Basel, have also represented Soil O-Live in different forums, including the Wageningen Soil 2023 Conference.

Dr. Vassilis Gkisakis, researcher at Elgo-Dimitra, Greek partner of the European project Soil O-Live, visited the province of Guanxi, located in southern China. A mission in which he has informed and promoted the introduction of olive growing and advanced oil processing technology in China. During the visit, the researcher has made a global presentation of the olive sector, including important research projects, such as Soil O-Live.

“It has been an intense year of hard work, of implementing a huge volume of actions and coordinating a very diverse group of researchers from universities, organizations and companies, with a total of 17 partners,” adds Manzaneda. “2024 will be a key year for the project, where after processing the data we will start to see the first results of the current state of the European olive grove soils. A preview of these results will be presented during the project’s annual meeting on January 24-25, in Mytilene, Greece,” he reports.

A second phase of the research will focus on soil restoration and remediation actions in olive groves with contamination and degradation problems. These include the use of electrochemical remediation for the decontamination and recovery of metals, and chemical remediation using peroxides for the degradation of pesticides in contaminated soils. To improve the chronic lack of organic matter in most Mediterranean olive groves, organic amendments based on the development of state-of-the-art bio-carbons (biochar) coupled with the restoration of natural canopies associated with the crop will be used. This last aspect is essential for the control of runoff erosion, the main factor of soil degradation in olive groves in recent decades. The last stage of the project will comprise the last two years of the project, during which the impact of the restoration actions carried out on the general health of the soil, the general condition of the trees and their direct and indirect impact on the quality of the olive oil, both through the analysis of its physical-chemical profile and its organoleptic characteristics, will be evaluated. During this last phase, and for each production mode, thresholds and new standards in the application of phytosanitary products with the potential to affect soil biodiversity and the functions it performs will also be determined.

The project has funding of nearly €7 million under the Soil Heath and Food Mission of the Horizon Europe R&D&I program (the European Union’s framework program for research and innovation for the period 2021-2027).