Interview with Nuno Miguel Vitorino, agricultural engineer at Nutriprado

Nuno Miguel Vitorino, agricultural engineer at Nutriprado, partner involved in the Life Resilience project which has participated in the development of the document “Sustainable agricultural practices to prevent Xylella fastidiosa in intensive olive and almond systems”, a series of sustainable agricultural practices that will help to mitigate the effect of the bacteria.

How are tests with cover crops evolving and what benefits can be seen?

The cover crops species are still being installed at this time. There was a delay due to the absence of rainfall, which in turn delayed the planting of the different species of the roofs.

By introducing these cover crops, consisting of carefully chosen species, it is possible to achieve agronomic benefits that will generate an impact on the soil where we hope it is possible: effective control of weeds (thus minimizing the use of herbicides); protection against erosion phenomena; gradually increase the level of organic matter; avoid nutrient leaching (nutrient recycling); improve soil structure; improve the passability of agricultural machinery during periods of high and concentrated precipitation; and decrease soil compaction.

On the other hand, the plant, which is always the part of the agricultural system that most worries the farmer, will be able to observe benefits such as: greater depth of the roots (due to the better soil structure); reduction of damage to plant roots (avoiding the passage of soil mobilization equipment); and greater biodiversity that contributes to the reduction of the incidence of pests and diseases (by increasing the presence of auxiliary insects).

How do these types of measures impact on the prevention of Xylella fastidiosa?

To perform a sustainable agriculture, it is necessary to maintain or create more balanced agricultural environments based on more diversified ecosystems. From this perspective, it is very important to improve biodiversity not only within olive groves and almond trees, but also within the most diverse agricultural crops, as a way of providing ecosystem services that directly benefit the farmer.

This type of cover crops implementation measures will allow, to some extent, an increase in soil temperature and moisture stability, creating a more favorable micro habitat for the development and multiplication of auxiliary organisms.

On the other hand, the introduced plants will also allow greater availability of food and alternative habitats that create favorable conditions for the survival, persistence and reproduction of auxiliary insects.

Therefore, by promoting the presence of more auxiliary insects, the habitat will be more harmful and less attractive to insect vectors of the Xylella fastidiosa – «biocombate» effect.

Also, you have collaborated in the creation of the Life Resilience manual, which is now available to farmers and the public in four languages, how can they use this document and how can it help them?

It is very important to think of alternatives that can help control the vector insect of Xylella fastidiosa, and it is in this context that the concept of functional biodiversity can become part of the solution of the problem, since it is the component of biodiversity that can be used to benefit culture through the natural limitation of its enemies.

In order for auxiliary fauna to be established on farms, it is essential to provide them with the basic conditions for their development and proliferation through the selection of ecological infrastructures.

These ecological infrastructures include cover crops, which, as they are arranged in the ground, can be considered ecological corridors, which represent about 80% of the biodiversity of a farm. In addition, the importance of the existence of hedges is remarkable because they allow the recolonization of culture by auxiliaries who, being in the hedges, are not affected by the various cultural operations.

Therefore, this manual allows the farmer to access knowledge clearly and concisely about what best agronomic practices are potentially interesting to introduce in order to be more resilient to the vector insect of Xylella fastidiosa.

What are the next steps you plan to take within the project?

The biggest challenge in the next stages of the project will be the capture and analysis of all the insects present in the three experimental farms. It is a complex entomological analysis where the captured insects are evaluated individually and grouped by families.

We hope to obtain attractive results and to be able to adjust even more the composition of the cover crops and hedges to the needs of biological limitation of the plagues of the olive grove and almond trees.