Olive trees killer could cost Europe’s south dear, new study reveals

Workers cut down Olive trees affected by the Xylella bacterium in Oria (Brindisi), in Puglia region. [EPA/FRIGIONE]

Notorious olive pest Xylella fastidiosa could cost Italy €5.2 billion, Spain €16.9 billion and Greece €2 billion if left unchecked, according to a new study released on Monday (13 April).

Scientists from the Dutch University of Wageningen have developed an economic model that projects the potential impact of the spread in the next 50 years for Italy, Greece, and Spain.

Even in the best-case scenario, with slow disease spread and the ability to replant with resistant cultivars, projections of future economic impact in affected countries run into billions of euros, the study shows.

However, if adaptation measures in the affected areas are implemented, the overall impact of the bacterial disease, which is decimating olive groves, could be significantly reduced in the three countries that account for around 95% of European olive production.

The study did not manage to quantify financially the losses incurred in replacing ancient trees with younger ones and the link with cultural heritage, tourism and recreation.

In Italy, around €0.46 billion and €1.29 billion would be saved in case the annual rate for the spread is reduced from 5.18 to 1 km, with proportionally similar benefits in Spain and Greece.

The study also found that the price of olive oil is expected to increase across Europe, as a result of the reductions in European supply, if replanting won’t be feasible, but also because of the measures taken to protect olive groves.

Regardless of the economic scenario, between €0.21 billion and €0.61 billion worth of investments were lost due to the premature death of trees in Italy.

EFSA: No cure for olive plants pest, the whole EU is at risk

In two opinions released on Wednesday (15 May), the EU Food Safety Agency confirmed that there is still no known way to eradicate the xylella fastidiosa from a sick olive tree. Control measures can contain the disease, but they have to be applied, EFSA’s director told EURACTIV.

The Xylella bacteria mainly affect olive trees, with infected plants displaying scorched leaves, dried branches and rapid deterioration, which in the most severe cases can lead to the death of the tree.

First detected in Italy in 2013, Xylella fastidiosa has started to spread rapidly across Southern Europe.

It has reached France, where it was first identified in Corsica and the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region in 2015, as well as Spain, where the area currently affected by the disease is more than 134,000 hectares since October 2016.

There is still no known way of eradicating this devastating disease, whose spread shows no signs of slowing any time soon.

Computer simulations developed by experts from the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) have showed that most of the EU territory is potentially suitable for the establishment of Xylella, although southern Europe is most at risk.

Some variations of the bacteria, like Xylella fastidiosa subspecies multiplex, have greater potential to establish in northern Europe than other subspecies, EFSA’s virtual modelling showed.

The latest advancements from European research projects working on Xylella included the final results from the Horizon 2020 Pest Organisms Threatening Europe (POnTE) Project, a four-year project designed to protect Europe from emerging pests.

New scientific research offers hope for overcoming olive tree killer

A number of promising results from innovative EU funded research presented at the recent scientific conference suggest that we might be one step closer to beating the olive trees killer Xylella fastidiosa.

[Edited by Sam Morgan]

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