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ModellIng solutions for improved and Resilient mAnagement strategies for Olive tree against future CLimatE change (OLIVE-MIRACLE)

Project abstract

During the last decades, the olive farming industry is experiencing an intensification process that carried along some radical changes in its thousands-year-old agronomic practices. These are moving from low-input traditional plantation to intensified traditional plantation and highly mechanized system. This process led to the first environmental risk caused by intensification: excessive use of water resource. The current forecasts of climate change will likely worsen this picture, and in a way that is difficult to address quantitatively. The aim of this project is to provide accurate tools to test the effectiveness of adaptation/mitigation management strategies to support long-term investment decision making on olive-tree cultivation across the Mediterranean under current and future climate. A central point will be the harmonization between farmers’ and sustainable ecosystems objectives, coupling olive tree cultivation profitability with the capacity of providing environmental services, to be reached by purposely-developed simulation tools to support decision-making. Advanced modelling approaches will be used to integrate available physiological knowledge into existing and well established modelling platforms, to assess climate change impact and evaluate mitigation/adaptation strategies by tuning agro-management factors. The analysis will be based on a consistent set of data layers, including weather, soils, and current agro-management information, and it will be conducted against present and short to mid-term future scenarios of climate change. A participatory approach with stakeholders engagement will be exploited through a reiterative process to identify/validate sustainable and economic viable olive tree management practices


Methods and materials

The research will produce modelling solutions to assess climate change impact on olive farming systems in Mediterranean environments, to support the development of sustainable and resilient agro-management strategies. Simulation of olive fundamental growth and development processes will be based on the OLIVECAN model, developed at the University of Cordoba and IAS-CSIC. OLIVECAN is a simulation model of development, growth and yield of olives in response to climate, soil and orchard characteristics. It is a detailed mechanistic model with a high explanatory power. The model incorporates a submodelof water balance which simulates soil evaporation, tree transpiration and surface runoff. Biomass accumulation is simulated using a Radiation-Use Efficiency approach (Mariscal et al., 2000a) with radiation interception.

Target groups

When applied in a global change context,OLIVEMIRACLE outputs will be a valid benchmark on which testing the impact of adaptation strategies on both farmers income and ecosystem services providing stakeholders with knowledge input to refine or re-orient breeding programs as well as design field operating machinery. Finally, project outputs have the potential to assess the role of sustainable mitigation and adaptation strategies on the optimisation of olive yield and GHGs emissions for olive tree cultivation.


Expected results

The analysis will be targeted at evaluating agro-management options focused a round the following issues:

  1. Water use. Where irrigation is an unavoidable option, the objective is to find how to maximize yield per unit land area and per unit irrigation water used. For rainfedorchards, the aim will be the optimization of the productivity of the system in the long term
  2. Soil protection. In olive groves soil erosion risk is elevated due to high fraction of uncovered surface and difficulty of growing a cover crop without impacting on water use. Appropriate management strategies for cover crop must be designed to avoid competition for water.
  3. Carbon balance. The effect of different irrigation strategies (timing and amount) and soil management (presence/type of cover crop; waste or biomass incorporation) on net carbon exchange will be assessed on the long-term, considering also the effect of increasing CO2 in the atmosphere.
  4. Agro-energy potential. The model can quantify the amount of biomass that can be produced by olive groves as pruning material, which is already an energy source designed for small power plants.
  5. A modelling solution will be implemented to analyse the impact of pest attacks in future scenarios in relation to a wider set of climate conditions.
  6. Olive oil chemistry profiles will be analyzedwith multivariate approaches to individuate causal relationships between climate variables and quality-related traits. The resulting model will be incorporated in a dedicated software package to be integrated in the modelling solutions.
  7. Olive farming design: olive growing has recently experienced a revolution in orchard design, increasing the planting density from 100-200 (traditional) to 400-600 (high density) to >1500 trees/ha (hedgerow). The sustainability of this new olive farming systems (both in current and in future climatic conditions) is still to be assessed in many environments: the simulations with OLIVECAN will help understanding in which zones and climates the new hedgerow orchards are viable, productive and what are their long-term environmental and economic risks under the common and forecasted constraints


Research gaps

Assessments of global change impact in agriculture have so far focused mainly on mere production criteria, rather than considering agriculture as a ‘holistic’ system where both positive (direct economic income) and negative externalities (e.g. soil erosion, increase of water pollutants and water scarcity) should be taken into account for a more comprehensive evaluation of system sustainability. Conversely, this project aims at analysing the different aspects of the olive production across the Mediterranean basin, including production, quality, resource use and optimization, by-product estimation, abiotic and biotic stressors and impact indicators.

The simulations results will therefore provide more insights into the trade-offs between crop yield and ecosystem services as affected by climate change, providing a basis for a cost/benefit analysis on the short term. On a long term, the analysis of carbon sequestration and yield will help to bridge the gap between adaptation and mitigation by finding the best combination amongst the strategies that optimize crop yield while reduces greenhouse gas emission.

Furthermore, the project is highly innovative to the extent that though the impact of climate change and adaptation options are evaluated over a large domain (the northern Mediterranean basin), the results are strictly linked to the local scale. This allows tailoring the adaptation measures on the actual local conditions rather than on regional or national scale.


Dr. Marco Moriondo
National Research Council, Italy

Project partners:  

Council for Agricultural Research and Economics, Italy    

Agricultural Research Institute, Cyprus       

Universidad de Cordoba, Spain    

14634 / i35