Advancing sustainable soil management in olive and grapevine production

NOVATERRA aims to revolutionise soil management strategies, focusing on protection against harmful organisms, over-fertilization, and weed control, with the goal of implementing these strategies on a large scale in intensive and extensive olive and grapevine production systems. This initiative explores innovative alternatives to reduce chemical inputs while preserving soil health and crop yield. Field experiments are conducted in various European regions to account for diverse growing conditions.

  1. Cover crops and conservation biological control

One of our primary strategies involves implementing cover crops and conservation biological control. While permanent grassing and temporary cover crops are commonly used for soil improvement, they have limitations, including reduced plant biodiversity. In our approach, we utilize a combination of carefully selected plant species that enhance natural agent communities, contributing to pest reduction and reduced pesticide usage. Initial tests on pests such as Bactrocera oleaePrays oleaeSaissetia oleae (in olive production), and Lobesia (in vineyards) have shown promising results in reducing crop damage. Ongoing monitoring across Portugal, Spain, Italy, and Greece will provide comprehensive data.

  • Adapting OptinyteTM technology to grapevine and olive crops

We have leveraged Optinyte technology, now known as INSTINCT™, to reduce nitrogen fertilization while maintaining crop yield quality and quantity. In collaboration with biostimulants, this nitrogen stabilizer has been tested in six grapevine farms over multiple years and four olive locations for two years. Preliminary findings suggest that nitrogen reduction is achievable when stabilizing nitrogen in the root zone with INSTINCT™ and biostimulants. However, ongoing research is needed to better understand the factors influencing success and implications for yield quality.

  • Pruning wood management for pathogen control and biodiversity enhancement

Pruning wood management is crucial for reducing wood pathogen inoculum and enhancing microbial biodiversity. We have pioneered in-situ composting of pruning wood, which has shown potential in reducing wood pathogen inoculum through elevated temperatures during composting. Molecular analysis has indicated changes in microbiome richness and composition. This approach is compared to conventional pruning wood management methods in a two-year large-plot experiment.

UCSC has tested in situ composting pruning wood (Fig. 1) to investigate the reduction of wood pathogens inoculum and the increase of the microbial biodiversity.

Fig 1. Composed vegetable material
  • Development of a Cost-effective Robot for Soil Management

Traditional weed management often relies on herbicides, which leave chemical residues in the soil. Mechanical weed management, particularly mowing, has demonstrated benefits in enhancing species richness, soil coverage, and reducing weed biomass. Under the NOVATERRA project, we’ve developed the Modular-E robot with mowing tools (Fig. 2), promoting sustainability in vineyards through electric drive technology. This autonomous robot was developed on Laboratory of Robotics and IoT for Smart Precision Agriculture and Forestry from INESC TEC. It carries out cleaning and cutting the vegetation on the line with metallic blades, to reduce the use of herbicides.

It is under testing in Sogrape vineyards, in the north of Portugal (Quinta de Sexio) and in Terras Gauda vineyards, in Spain.  This robot and its tools have proven to have a huge potential to be exploited along the next years.

Fig 2. Modular E-Robot developed by INESC TEC
  • Decision Support System (DSS) for Integrated Soil Management

NOVATERRA introduces a Decision Support System (DSS) for integrated soil management in vineyards and olive groves. This DSS characterizes specific agricultural sites through a checklist and calculates potential risk indexes for soil threats (erosion, loss of organic substance, compaction, hard-pan, contamination, water shortage, loss of biodiversity, water stagnation and predisposition to diseases/pest; Fig. 3).

Fig 3.  Snapshot of the “Potential soil threats” page in which the indexes of the potential risk of the different soil threats in a specific field are showed. Green low potential risk, yellow and orange medium potential risk, red high potential risk.

Users are guided in the field evaluation of these threats and provided with mitigative actions to improve soil conditions (Fig. 4). The system emphasizes continuous monitoring and evaluation to ensure the effectiveness of implemented actions.

Fig 4.  Snapshot of the “Mitigation solutions” page, for each solution listed the specific efficacy against the different soil threats is provided with a color code (green= high efficacy, yellow= medium efficacy, orange= low efficacy, red= not recommended, white= no efficacy). For each solution a description is available as downloadable pdf by clicking the icon on the right of the solution name