The Soil O-live project collects more than 5,200 samples in five countries to determine the state of the soils of Mediterranean olive groves.

This European initiative, led by the University of Jaén, will provide precise information on the state of olive grove soils and their impact on olive oil.

The European project Soil O-live, led by the University of Jaén, has already collected more than 5,200 samples in the 52 plots of the project in different parts of Europe and North Africa to advance in the study of the effect of agricultural management on the general state of health of the soils of Mediterranean olive groves. This initiative, which began seven months ago, also focuses on analysing the impact on the production and quality of olive oils produced in the Mediterranean region.

The researchers, following the protocols and standards defined by the European Union, have taken five replicates in each of the plots at two different depths, 10 and 20 centimetres, so that it will be possible to analyse the effects of agricultural activity on different substrates of the olive grove soil. The selected plots correspond to various olive cultivation systems, traditional, intensive and organic, so that the project will be able to carry out a comparative analysis between each of them.
The samples have been taken in different parts of the Mediterranean Arc with olive-growing traditions, such as southern Portugal, the island of Lesbos, Crete, the region of Kalamata (Greece), Tuscany, Lazio and Sicily (Italy), Morocco and southern Spain. After collection, researchers have already started to process the soil samples in the laboratory to extract the first data.

Antonio Manzaneda, lecturer and researcher in Ecology at the University of Jaén and coordinator of the project, emphasises that the European Union itself has become directly involved in the project in order to obtain first-hand information on the state of the soils. “The large number of samples collected will allow us to have an accurate and up-to-date picture of the state of the 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,” he says.
The Soil O-live project has a consortium of 17 partners and has funding of almost 7 million euros within the framework of the Soil Heath and Food Mission of the Horizon Europe R&D&I programme (the European Union’s framework programme for research and innovation for the period 2021-2027).

Soil O-live aims to analyse the impact of pollution and land degradation on olive soils in terms of multi-biodiversity, ecological function at different levels of organisation and scales; to investigate the relationship of soil health status with olive oil quality and safety; implement effective soil amendments and ecological restoration practices that promote manifest improvements in soil biodiversity and functionality in permanent Mediterranean olive groves in their native range, which should translate into improvements in olive oil quality and safety; define rigorous ecological thresholds that will allow the implementation of future clear rules and regulations to design a novel certification for healthy soils in European olive groves.

The project consortium is made up of fifteen academic institutions and two companies from the olive sector. At national level, in addition to the University of Jaén, which acts as coordinator, the project has the participation of the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC) through three research centres (Estación Experimental del Zaidín, Instituto de Agricultura Sostenible and Estación Experimental Aula Dei) and the University of Castilla La Mancha. At the international level, prestigious institutions such as the University of Roma Tre (Italy), the Free University of Berlin (Germany), the University of Tras-Os-Montes e Alto Douro (Portugal), the University of the Aegean (Greece), the Hellenic University of the Mediterranean (Greece), ELGO-DIMITRA (Greece), the University of Silesia in Katowice (Poland), the University of Palermo (Italy), the Italian National Research Council – Bari (CNR), the National School of Agriculture of Meknes (Morocco) and as associate partner the University of Bern (Switzerland). Nutesca S.L. and the multinational company DEOLEO GLOBAL S.A. are participating as companies in the sector, as well as the Spanish Standardisation Agency UNE.