Inspirational ideas: Changing weather conditions force olive farmers to start with pest management
Pest / disease control
Nowadays, olive trees across the Mediterranean area deal with extreme weather conditions caused by climate change. Heavy rains, spring frosts, strong winds and summer droughts are just some examples. How can farmers prepare their olive orchard for these extreme weather conditions?
Vincenza Ferrara is a farmer at Azienda Agricola ‘DORA’, an extensive small-scale olive farm in the rural area of inner Sicily. The total cultivated area is approximately six hectares, spread out in a hilly landscape with steep slopes. The farm was set up in 2013 thanks to a project co-funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development. In the past, Vincenza did not need to deal with pest management, but with the changing weather conditions she had to.
Vincenza: “The area where our olive trees are planted has a very dry and temperate microclimate with cold, snowy winters and hot dry summers. This generally protects the trees from pest attacks. Nonetheless, climate change has recently disrupted the predictability of the weather, affecting olive production. In 2018 we had a humid summer that caused the massive spread of Bactrocera oleae, better known as the olive fruit fly. This has forced our farm to plan a pest management strategy for the years to come.”
“With the help of the European LIFE programme, we worked out a pest management strategy based on agroecological management techniques. In the fall of 2018, we first started planting a seed-mixture of nitrogen-fixing plants as a cover crop among the olive trees. We did this to improve the soil conditions, and to increase both the diversity in wild plant species and the presence of pollinators and natural predators to olive pests. Also, no-till and strategic pruning were part of the strategy. Strategic pruning means that we try to avoid a concentration of branches inside the crown of the trees. If there is a high concentration of branches, the sunlight can’t get through and this increases the humidity within the tree crown, which favours the fruit flies.”
“Finally, we integrated handmade traps for olive pests. They consist of water, rotten fish and Ammonium chloride. We set them up in the beginning of June 2019, immediately after the first fruits started to grow. We placed the traps strategically considering 3 main factors: the number of fruits growing on the tree, the location of the tree relative to the surrounding trees and the position of the tree’s branches. When placing the traps, the aim was to protect the tree itself and at least the nearby trees surrounding the tree with the trap. The average was 1 trap covering 6 trees.”
“The results of this new strategy are amazing. In October 2019 we checked the traps and the fruits. In the traps we found many specimens of the fruit fly, while the fruits on the trees were very healthy and beautiful and they turned out to be very strong. For the years to come, we plan to continue this pest management strategy. It is a wonderful idea that we can work with nature to make our orchard ‘climate-proof’”, Vincenza concludes.
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