Italy opens door for farmers to replant lost olive trees

Artificial Intelligence (AI) will be used to have predictive information on olive fly pest. [Chris/Flickr]

The Italian Ministry of Agriculture is working on allowing the replanting of olive trees, up to now prohibited because of the virulent Xylella bacterium. EURACTIV Italy reports.

Minister for Agriculture Maurizio Martina told La Repubblica that “those who want to replant should send a request to the ministry, where it will be dealt with without too much red tape”.

Applications are not limited solely to universities and research centres. Farmers who are testing disease-resistant varieties, or experimental farming techniques, will also be considered. “We want to give people the opportunity to find a cure for this disease,” continued the minister, adding that €4 million has just been spent on further research into the destructive pathogen.

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Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Vytenis Andriukaitis, recently weighed in on research into Xylella, responding to a letter sent by Antonia Battaglia, of environmental association Peacelink Taranto.

Battaglia called for greater attention at a European level, concerning the experimental research being carried out on the disease, which has decimated olive crops in Puglia. The Commissioner’s response stated that the “ongoing or planned research activities carried out at EU or Member State level shall under no circumstances slow down the process of implementation of the EU emergency measures”.

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Andriukaitis agreed that greater understanding about the bacterium and how to treat it are essential, but that curbing the spread of the disease is a priority that is “in the interest of the affected region, as well as of the rest of Italy and the EU as a whole”. Eradication of the affected plants will, in short, proceed as normal.

In October 2013, Xylella fastidiosa was found to be infecting olive trees in the region of Puglia in southern Italy. The disease was causing a rapid decline in olive plantations, and by April 2015, was affecting the whole Province of Lecce and other zones of Puglia.The bacterium had never previously been confirmed in Europe. Almond and oleander plants in the region have also tested positive for the pathogen.

The disease causes withering and desiccation of terminal shoots, distributed randomly at first but which then expands to the rest of the canopy. This results in the collapse and death of the trees. In the affected groves, all of the plants show symptoms. By the beginning of 2015 it had infected up to a million trees in the region.

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